I walked with him down a street in Helsinki on a sunny day in July, 2009. His name was Heikki Attila. He celebrated like a child because of me consenting to invite my friends to start the cleanup in Slovenia. He did it by sweeping the pavement every few steps with an old broom he carried in his hand like a hippie wizzard.
He kept passing the broom to me and others in the team, saying: “Now I know we’re really going to clean the world!”
We laughed and sweeped, sweeped and laughed…
Mind that at that point there were only Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with their nation wide one-day cleanups. But Heikki somehow knew it would go global. I didn’t believe him then. Now I do.
The broom was special! He went 500 km north to bring it from the broken van we left parked by the road east of Tampere.
The rest is history… I did invite my friends, our team self-organized, we had our nation-wide cleanup on 17 April 2010. And Heikki came too, the joyful child, to participate in the cleanup.
Later, we visited the president of Slovenia and Heikki came again. He brought the president a present: that very broom that started it all.
I pictured Heikki entering the plane with the broom in his hand and explaining to the flight attendant his story. Now he stood there with the president, their hands holding the broom together.
That broom… phew!
Heikki died some years ago, having sown many more seeds of cleaning the planet everywhere he went. He had spent his meager pension to support his journeys to inspire cleanups.
I remember Heikki today at the end of the 2020 Let’s do it World Cleanup conference. I’ve written a letter to Heikki. Many would say Heikki was just a crazy man, he doesn’t deserve so much credit. To me, he is that special friend that pushed me to become who I am now.
I’m proud to be a crazy friend of that crazy special man. Well, aren’t we all crazy, anyway? Here’s my letter to thaat man, whose belief in the clean world is still alive with us…
I write this with tears in my eyes. One more world cleanup conference is over…
Tree planting is, indeed, for another generation; trees, you know: good people.
I don’t need to walk to your grave to tell you that the trees are growing. You’re in my heart, I can talk with you there. Yes many trees have died, but new planters are coming and planting new trees where the old ones died.
So many pathological optimist are around me right now. Your approach works…
It’s clear now that the snow ball is too big to be stopped. We’re cleaning the world!
Your broom is held by millions of hands!
You were too crazy to give up and your spirit is still with us. We’re too crazy to give up.
Thank you that you were–and still are–the patological optimist soul of this movement!
Your dearest friend,