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During Quarantine I’ve Missed This Sign of Life

Jamie Sumner
Special needs mom, author and blogger
09/28/20  8:00 AM PST

The One Sign of Life I Never Thought I’d Miss…trash.

Trash is terrible. To litter signifies a lack of concern and awareness of one’s surroundings. It suggests ownership of the world rather than a humble walk through it. And yet, I miss trash. As strange as it sounds, it is a sign of human life, albeit a flawed and detrimental one. It signifies that life was here. A community came together and through either neglect or indifference, they left a little bit behind.

In the time of COVID and quarantine, the world has gotten a little…earthier. Grass sprouts between the cracks in the sidewalks. Jackals have taken to the streets in Israel. Deer wander between parked cars on empty streets. Squirrels, birds and raccoons grow braver in their foraging. In what scientists are calling the “anthropause” it seems the world is getting back to its roots. Nature creeps forward as humans retreat. It’s natural in the most literal sense – nature is staking its claim in our absence. And I am happy for the grass and the squirrels, even the jackals. But I also miss my neighbors and their Uncrustable wrappers that would occasionally blow by after having escaped from their stroller. I miss that morning after Halloween trail of mini Snickers wrappers and packs of Gobstoppers along the sidewalk. I miss the gum wrappers you can always find under the bleachers after a baseball game. I miss baseball games. I miss the Fruit Snack wrappers that get caught in the fence around the edges of our community pool. I miss our pool.

I remember the first time I saw a discarded face mask stuck in a shrub near the park. It was child-sized and covered in dancing SpongeBobs. Quarantine safety precautions are now so common that they have fallen all the way to the ranks of trash. The same goes for medical gloves, empty hand sanitizer bottles and Clorox wipes. It reminds me of when my own child had a tracheotomy as an infant and our trash was filled with empty sterilized water containers and extra-long Q-tips and gauze pads and hospital tape. Our trash reflected our life – one filled with precautions, much like now.

In the social science of “garbology,” researchers study a culture’s trash to determine its values. What you throw away says a lot about you. How must potential fuel and food do you waste? What collects between the seats of your van? What do you recycle and what do you choose to dump? I miss the clues that trash offers. All signs on social media point to kitchens filled with freshly baked banana bread made by quarantined hands. We are growing our own zucchini and tossing it into brownies and shopping on Amazon more than ever. We are Zoom-schooling our children and watching Michael Jordan on Netflix and Hamilton on Disney Plus. But what else? I crave the physical remnants of life.

In a way, I’m glad to see the discarded masks and other pandemic paraphernalia, because they signify that someone was out, getting some fresh air. I will look forward to the day quarantine is over and I see gum wrappers under the bleachers again, because it will mean I am on those bleachers watching my children play baseball in a world that has returned somewhat to normal.


child with special needs
Jamie Sumner is a special needs mom, author and blogger.
Read her blog, The Mom Gene.
Follow her on Facebook.


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