The sight has become a familiar one: rows of empty shelves at your local grocery store. This aisle used to house pasta noodles and bottled sauce. The other side held baked beans, among other, apparently very popular, foods. If you haven’t seen it in person, you can find it online, though initially the most prized item was toilet paper.
Have you ever been to a baby shower where someone has made one of those adorable baby diaper cakes? I think the trend will extend to weddings now also–wedding cakes comprised entirely of toilet paper. Oh wait, someone has already created a First Wedding Anniversary version!
Oh, Chrissy Gikis, you have started something! Wedding parties of 10 or fewer will now boast “Come Potty with the New Couple!” Your new Bridezilla will be cutting corners to pay for her lavish wedding by shrugging off the needs of her guests with, “Let them eat cake; it costs less.”
Alright, so it is fun in a dark humor way to poke fun at the absurdities of human behavior right now. But many of us do so while hiding a sense of foreboding, trying to ignore the ominous clouds rolling in from all sides.
When I visited my favorite grocery store for the first time since the country began its social distancing campaign, I purposely started in the “non-food” end of the store. There I found peace, order, quiet, calm. I wanted to stay there.
Partly because I had also just experienced my first day of “Never say you would never home school.” Rule #1 as a parent: Never say Never to yourself.
In truth, I didn’t want to find out that shelves of toilet paper had literally disappeared within an hour of the store’s opening. That items not even on sale were “Temporarily Unavailable.” That my cute little shopping list would prove irrelevant.
What I wanted most to avoid, though, as I felt the pinball of my brain getting ready to flip, was watching the same scarcity mindset take over me. I was afraid of the feeling I’d had in an airport in 2006 when it suddenly appeared that my “Whoops! I forgot to print a boarding pass for my connecting flight” might turn into “You’ll just have to take a number and wait since all these other people want your seat more than you apparently did.” I didn’t want to panic.
So I stopped and I did what I’ve been working on for years now.
I listened to my breathing. I listened to the rush of air as my capable body drew it in and released it. I heard the clatter of shopping cart wheels–way too many shopping cart wheels for this time of day–and the buzz of a dozen nearby conversations. I heard a well-dressed, upper level management guy explain to a customer that shipments of their sought item were coming in next week.
And then I heard the most beautiful of sounds.
Music. The sweet streaming of background music.
Suddenly Huey Lewis and I were toe-tapping and slide-stepping down the bread aisle.
“It don’t take money. It don’t take fame. Don’t take no credit card to ride this train…it’s something something and it’s cruel sometimes, but it just may save your life.” Full stop. “That’s the power of love.”
And I was head bobbing and swaying to the beat. The world no longer had a hold on me. I had been transported. Suddenly I began to see the people in my world again as–guess what? People.
I passed a lady who commented to her aging mother, “Hey, at least there’s still plenty of mac and cheese.” While maintaining a healthy six feet between us, I added, “The world can’t end as long as there’s mac’n-cheese.”
Eye contact. “Right?!” she laughed.
Cha-ching. Connection. It was easy pickings from there.
When a man whom I judged to be rather sedentary (I completely own that I make snap judgments of people, though I usually challenge them) muttered, “You’d think they’d restock these shelves,” I resisted the urge to cough in his direction and tell him they already had–twice. What he was seeing was the entirety of the store’s inventory for that item.
OK, so I actually skipped the part where I bore him ill will, but it was therapeutic to imagine doing that.
As I smiled and sang my way through the produce section, the friendly stocker beamed when he caught sight of me. Who knows how long it had been since he’d seen a smile? Perhaps not long, but I’m guessing we all need more signs of hope than usual. We shared a brief conversation about philosophy, human behavior, the fate of the world, and a few other pleasantries before I moved on and forgot to buy oranges.
As I rounded out my order with an extremely rare purchase of Oreo cookies (green for St. Patrick’s), I groaned inwardly at the thought of waiting in line. Could I remain patient while watching people ahead of me buy the last can of baked beans? My baked beans?
And oh, no. The family with three kids under age four, carriers most likely, had just pulled in next to me. Even though I had offered to help them just moments before, their proximity to me and the thought they could be contagious began to take hold.
The youngest had dissolved into full meltdown, so mom carried him away, leaving dad with two preschoolers tightly packed into a car cart. They looked like trouble.
Then salvation! A lady in authority opened a new lane and motioned the haggard family to step right this way.
Just then, an older lady with a mini-cart and only a few items (bless her heart!) paused mid-stride as she arrived at checkout and stepped toward this newly opened checkstand. The man with children insisted she go ahead of him. She insisted he go first. They compared risk for causing societal collapse. The grateful father acquiesced, and the power of love won again.
Even if we are down to our last can of beans.