So I went to the grocery store the other day for the regular pandemic shopping ritual. I didn’t necessarily want to go but I didn’t have a choice – we were out of ketchup.
Don’t get me wrong, I like our local supermarket and they have led the way in dealing professionally with the challenges of Covid-19. Disinfected carts? Check. Plexiglass panels? Check. Arrows and tiny feet painted on the floors? Check. Low inventory and out of stock items? Check and check.
Truth be told, the younger employees seem to have embraced the extra procedures more easily than the older employees have. The newer ones interact and chat with me; the older ones grunt and barely look up. Try as I might, I haven’t been able to make a ‘seasoned’ checkout person smile since sometime in February.
One of these mature employees, let’s call her ‘Smiley’, can never quite allow herself to affirm anything I say:
Me: “So I imagine all these extra procedures are a bit of a pain.” Smiley: “Not really. What’er yuh gonna do?”
Me: “Really nice weather we’re having today.” Smiley: “They’re calling for rain on the weekend.”
I made the mistake of arriving shortly after seven o’clock one morning for senior’s hour. I won’t be making that mistake again. Imagine every aisle crowded with recreational shoppers with nowhere better to go. Worse, they bag their own groceries.
Some shoppers wear masks, some don’t, but most everybody respects distancing. The person trailing in an aisle will wait patiently while the shopper ahead of them searches for the item they want. Unless it’s me – I hate waiting.
Same with that other lady who was my nemesis that day.
My nemesis was an elderly little firecracker. She wore a flowered tank top, faux-denim shorts, and sensible shoes, all accented with a knee brace that kept sneaking south in search of her calf. Her grey hair was trimmed summer-short and she stared ahead through massive tinted glasses spread across her face. She propelled herself straight forward with intense flurries of hunting and gathering and little regard for the rest of us.
We first crossed paths in the bake shop, each simultaneously laying claim to the space in front of the baguettes. I let her have the spot without a fight because I was actually after sub buns. Plus I was a little afraid.
But I swore she would not best me again.
Three aisles later she was waiting behind me as I searched the busy spice shelves. I felt some anxiety because I’m a novice cook and had no idea where stores hide pickling spice. My nemesis stood impassively behind but I felt the air darkening with her displeasure with having to wait. That’s when I decided making pickled slaw was more important than her prowling so I re-organized my search beginning again at the top shelf. Fortunately, in the time it took for her to pull up her knee brace, I was able lay claim to the second-last bag of pickling stuff.
We would meet again: we were both slowed by a third person searching for the cheapest can of tuna; I avoided her with a deft zig-zag manoeuvre near the cheeses; then swept past as she contemplated the refrigerated beer.
I started loading the conveyor at ‘Cash #3’ shortly before she arrived at ‘Cash #1’. Unfortunately for me, she had fewer items and a young cashier so I knew it would be a race to exit the store ahead of her. But thanks to my more highly evolved plastic-card skills, I was able to beat her into the parking lot by a good ten feet.
The above grocery story is true though somewhat ‘colourized’. In spite of taking some licence, the people did exist, we did have impatient interactions, and I did get to the parking lot first.
But why? In my grocery tale the opinions were mostly – if not entirely – in my head. No doubt my nemesis barely even remembers me today. Why did it become a running battle in my mind? Good question. I don’t know.
In the larger picture, I can’t help but wonder how much of the emotion in our current culture is of our own making. Why are we all so disagreeable and angry? Why is it that we have to win all the time, whether it’s sports, video games, politics, or the success of our kids? Why do we have to have the last word? Why do we need to shout the other side down?
Black Lives Matter is a cry for justice from black people but some well intentioned whites are finding ways to be offended. Defund the police is a call to reorganize the funding pie in order to provide more helpful ways to deal with the challenges police have but it is heard as doing away with the police. Each side absolutely right in their own minds.
But those are easy examples. There are many chapters in our lives where we choose to become our own protagonist to an imagined antagonist. For some reason we like to invent enemies in our own hearts and minds. Then defeat them.
What does that say about our inner security and peace? Or lack of it?
Today is Father’s Day. My father is still going strong as he heads toward the end of his ninth decade. He is a ‘people person’ who still finds ways to socialize and connect regularly with family and friends, even while social-distancing.
Over the years he has often shared a favourite saying, “People are good”. Usually this has to do with a random acquaintance who shows an unexpected kindness or generosity. He has quite a few of these stories of people simply being good.
That seems to run counter to religious teaching about ‘original sin’ and how the thoughts of the human heart are ‘only evil continually’. But of course the two can co-exist: we can have darkness in our hearts but our minds can still choose to be polite and kind. The battle for our hearts is a spiritual one but our minds are formed by good choices and practices.
So I offer you this gift from my dad – the gift of appreciating the good in others when you see it. The gift of realizing that the person you disagree with is also good in some way. You don’t have to be naive and you don’t have to surrender your values, you just have to be patient and kind. You know, treating others as you would like to be treated.
It’s the freedom of choosing peace.