For a time in my early 20s, I got hooked on reading Maya Angelou’s books and poems. Starting with “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” I rapidly read through many of her books and collections of poems. Even though her background and life experiences are vastly different from my own, I felt as though her trials and triumphs spoke to me in a personal way. Her life story, shared over the course of seven biographies, touched and influenced me in ways that I cannot even begin to catalog.
One of my favorite quotes from Angelou jumps into my head quite frequently these days. Angelou once stated, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” I like this quote for two reasons. First, the words invite the reader to forgive themselves for their past actions. I believe Angelou is telling us to let go of the past, be gentle with yourself, for you were doing the best you could with the knowledge and resources you then possessed. The second reason that I am so fond of this quote is that I also believe she is instructing us that once we know better, we must be better. We must do better. Now that we have been freed from our past ignorance, continuing to behave in the same fashion is no longer acceptable.
The reaction to a recently passed bill from our County Council exemplified this quote to me. Councilman Kai Hagen wrote a bill, which was adopted by the council, that prohibits mass balloon releases in our county. There are many reasons why banning the intentional release of balloons is a good thing. The most important reason to me is the number of dead animals found with balloons in their stomachs. (For those of you ready to bog down the comments with statistics of just how many animals are affected, know that one is too many for me.) Latex balloons can take up to four years to decompose, and while that is significantly less than plastic, it is still plenty of time for a bird, reptile, mammal or fish to mistake it for food. What is particularly mind-boggling to me is that I’ve seen some folks react to this bill as though their civil or First Amendment rights have been violated! It’s very hard for me to understand, with all we know about balloons and their effect on the environment (not to mention that we should be saving our helium for more important uses), that people would be so up in arms about this piece of legislation.
When I was in elementary school, we used to do mass releases of balloons with postcards attached. If someone found the balloon and mailed the postcard back, we could see how far our balloon had traveled. It was a pretty sight, even if it was for just a few fleeting moments, to see all the bright colors float away into the blue sky.
Today, I sometimes feel bad that I may have contributed to the death of an animal just so I could see a colorful object float away in the sky. But I was just a child and did not have the information that I have today. Now that I know better, I will certainly do better. We all should.
Shannon Green writes from Frederick.