Every Ounce Counts

Via Flickr

Via Flickr

When I was a boy in Cleveland, Ohio, I would leap out of bed just before sunrise on trash day, tie an industrial-size garbage bag around my handlebars, and cruise down the red-brick streets to rummage through boxes for curbside valuables that my Dad would sell at the flea market every weekend at the local drive-in.

Even as a kid, I understood that this was a means of going out for family dinner or summer admission to the big amusement park. I was never forced to go garbage picking. I wasn’t abused. I wanted to help and, for me, there was never a stigma attached to these childhood treasure hunts. We were simply recycling someone else’s discarded possessions into supplemental family income.

Things were different in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, but forty years later much remains the same.

I hadn’t given much thought to my childhood expeditions until a recent encounter at a local gas station. I saw him coast onto the station lot through the corner of my eye. I was filling up my tank on the way to work. My first thought was very uncharitable. “You can’t pump gas into a bicycle. I hope he doesn’t ask me for money.”

I didn’t lift my head up so as to avoid direct eye contact at all costs. The gentleman on the bike had no interest in speaking to me or any one else at the pumps. He went to the trashcans and quietly transferred the recyclable plastic bottles and aluminum cans from the large receptacles to his own industrial size garbage bag.

So correct me, LORD, but please be gentle. Do not correct me in anger, for I would die. – Jeremiah 10:24

I was compelled to look up to see a cleanly dressed man in his early forties digging through the trash with all the dignity, humility and self respect that I robbed from him in my silent, cynical judgment.

I recalled the memory of a young boy cruising down the red-brick streets of Cleveland, Ohio. At that moment, the scales fell from my eyes and my heart was softened. I had some empty plastic bottles on the floor in the back of my car as well as an extra large full bottle of water. I walked over to meet him where he was. I handed the bottles to him and looked at his face. He was groomed and clean-shaven. His eyes were warm and tired with a genuine glimmer of joy and hope that can only be predicated on the Spirit of God dwelling within a soul. He gratefully accepted the empty bottles and he put them in his bag.

He held the large bottle of water and said “Thanks. I’ll save this one to drink later. Every ounce counts.”

I’ve since retired and there’s not much I miss about going to work in prison for twenty-five years but, I am eternally grateful for the liberating encounter on my way to prison that afternoon. I’ve pondered the profound meaning of these three words in my heart for nearly a year.


Regarding life, whether we’re growing in our mother’s womb, wailing in birth, in our prime or golden years, active or infirm, burned out, rusted away, or exhausted and spent in the final moments of our natural death; every second, every breath, and every heartbeat is worth infinitely more to God than we can ever comprehend.

Regarding water bottles, a thirst is quenched with one full bottle of water. A family income can be supplemented with the recycled value of many empty bottles.

“Do small things with great love.” – Blessed Mother Teresa

Regarding life and water bottles, every ounce really does count.


Copyright 2015 Brian K. Kravec
Photo: 1950s JC Higgins by Tim Keith, copyright 2004, via FLickr


About Author

Brian is a cradle Catholic, husband and father. He's the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Possibility Productions, a 501(c)(3) faith event evangelization apostolate in service of the Body of Christ. Brian has proudly served the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fresno on the Board of Directors for KNXT Catholic Television, is the Steward of St. Patrick’s Faith Event Ministry for his local parish and a 4th degree member of the Knights of Columbus. Brian and his wife are consecrated members of the Militia Immaculata. For information on the MI and Total Consecration visit Consecration.com.


  1. Thanks for sharing a simple, but humbling story. I remember when I went to college in the “Big City” of New York. It was my first experience of urban homelessness and street life. On my first commute in, I encountered a panhandler crooner and heard his whole repertoire of songs before my subway came. I asked his name. I’d see him most every morning from then on. He was moody and cranky when it was raining. He was also in a good mood when he was holding a carton of orange juice. And to this day, it’s because of Barnes Wilson that Inknow every depth and vocal crevice of “Misty” and older Tin Pan Alley American standards.

  2. The Gospels invite us to do small things with great love. Think of all the prayers people pray every day. Only a very small number of those prayers require God’s direct involvement or intervention. Ordinary people like you and me can answer most prayers.

    If we would just learnt recognize people’s needs and pain, there are so many prayers that God wants to use us to answer. Too many go unanswered because ordinary people like you and me don’t allow the Holy Spirit to Guide us. – Matthew Kelly, Rediscover Jesus – An Invitation

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