Do you remember when the global pandemic first hit?
Going to the grocery store was a surreal experience. We were lined up out in the parking lot trying to get in to buy some toilet paper. The sidewalk outside was marked so we would stay six feet apart. Someone was spraying us down as we entered, only in groups of ten or fifteen. Seemed like a 1970’s end of the world film.
“If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person.” ―
Is it more than just grabbing supplies for the week?
I was the one who went to the grocery store in our family. That evolved year after year as I started doing more of the cooking. Cooking became a hobby. My wife was working two jobs. She tutored kids after school with their math homework at our dining room table. Getting dinner ready for our family was a contribution I could make.
I’m usually not in a hurry at the grocery story. Sometimes, for variety, I will go to different stores. When I go through the checkout, I try and talk to the cashier and baggers as if they were real people. It usually works. But I fear I’m turning into the old man with the odd banter and bad jokes. This is how it happens, too many solitary trips to the grocery. You can check yourself out these days, if you have just a few items. Unpaid labor working for the store, you even bag your own purchase. People seem to love the privilege.
Have you ever had a car wreck and felt in a daze afterward?
I remember that first trip to the story after my wife had passed away. The virus was months away. Moving down the rows, as I normally did, I had brand new thoughts to wrestle with. What was I actually looking for? In the days ahead, was there any reason to go to the store? I was all alone now. In a daze I sort of wandered around, contemplating the next stage of life. Little did I know then that a pandemic was soon to arrive.
Trips to the store still happen. I don’t really cook meals, when I do, they end up half eaten or as buried treasure in the freezer. Wonder what I’m buying? Mostly liquids and searching for flour. I never make a visit that I’m not conscious of my past trips and what life was once like, as I walk out to the parking lot and sing a little tune. The store seems to be a shadow of the past too – why can’t I find lemon Propel? My search for flour is like hunting for the Holy Grail. Surely the rhythm of life will return again, like those cicadas singing in the trees all summer.
Have you found a place to recollect those thoughts of yours?
As I look back, I think prowling the aisles of the store was sort of therapeutic at the end of the day. That sounds strange to many people. I wander up and down the rows and think about what’s needed to make something good. I notice all the characters pushing their carts, out and in the way. I talk to myself and try to go unnoticed. Students of my wife often would come up and introduce themselves. Beats me how they figured out who I was? I try to dress incognito.
“Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.” ―
The grocery store remains a very interesting experience. All sorts of characters, myself included. There was a lady today clogging up the access to the shopping carts, she was all dressed up in her hazmat outfit scrubbing down everything in sight with her diaper sized medical wipes. I just stood there and watched. It seems that one out of every seven people are completely unaware that there is anyone else on the planet. Probably new tasks, like disinfecting everything (or searching for keys in a giant purse), disrupts automatic actions, like moving out of the doorway. There are many new routines we have all have to now include.
I went to Target to buy a new pillow. I keep buying cheap bed pillows and just replacing them. I’m probably not making wise decisions. They lose their umph quickly. My first night on the new pillow, dramatic increase in REM sleep! I’ve got a Fitbit tracking me every moment, awake and asleep. That was my goal.
What story is your life telling right now?
When my daughter was a preschooler, we used to visit the neighborhood Target. They had just invented those super size stores. What an adventure I remember us having. Just getting out of the house. Maybe that’s what we all need to do more of these days. It’s probably time for everyone to get back to those little adventures in life.
“My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours… it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us more powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually.” ―
The grocery store is like the modern town square. Only now, we are having our products delivered to the front door or the trunk of the car. I have even had my pizza dumped through my car window. Less interacting with real people face to face. So many friends are working from home. Much more convenient, and safe for now, but there’s a cost. We probably won’t feel all the effects for some time. Be careful, don’t replace essential human interaction for automated convenience.
My college students are attending in record numbers – no one wants to skip class for some reason. My theory is that spending so much time locked away has brought out a need to be with others. It’s a normal human need. We are social creatures. Remember God’s declaration? “It isn’t good for the man to live alone.” – Genesis 2:18
What’s your trip to HEB look like?
More trips to HEB means more things I’ve forgotten. Why not some vegetables? Probably need to bump into some more characters.
I’m making trips to get a pillow, light bulbs, butter and mouthwash. I forgot the laundry detergent. If I don’t write things down I’m hopeless. Maybe that’s the better explanation for all my trips. These trips are always going to be strange for me. But they will also be a way for me to walk a familiar aisle.
I’m taking road trips with friends, sharing meals, face-timing with my family, and trying to do more social events (concerts, sports and plays). I want life to get back to the way it was, but I don’t want to be the same person. I want to be wiser and more aware of the people around me.
“Miracles can only inhabit the reality of our awareness when we surrender our need for the familiar to our desire for the limitless.” ―