At The Grocery Store

I was there last night, during that witching hour, when people’s bellies are driving them to the shelves, still in their work clothes, to fend of that primal need: hunger.

I rarely go to the grocery store at that time of day — except on Mondays. For some reason, I am out of everything on Monday, and I don’t realize it until 4:30.  But on Thursday, the crowd is especially prevalenet, and I try to stay away.

But this day was unavoidable. I was there to buy donuts for my son’s open house that starts in less than 45 minutes… along with toilet paper, milk, tortilla shells and some clementines.

As I reached the check-out area, I scanned the lines and the contents of people’s carts and the stages they were in so that I could determine the most efficient line, bagger and cashier. There were no good options. All lines were equally sluggish with what seemed to be the same exact amount of food.

cartBut, I moved over to this one line, keeping my face down, so as not to distract the person in front of me, as I was mentally urging her to empty her cart as quickly as possible so I could get out of there.

But I looked up just long enough to see her worn, tired face, and her stringy hair, and that baby sitting on the sling on her chest. And down by my feet, was a frustrated toddler, trying to get out of the car-cart — with all of that candy within hand’s reach.

In a flash I remembered that exhaustion. My wrist hurt just looking at the items in her cart, and imagining her trying to balance that baby on her chest, while she leans into the cart to grab the items, grabbing too much, and straining her wrist, and eventually leading to the carpal tunnel that I know have.  Her measured words in monotone, trying not to upset the equilibrium she was trying to maintain, “Stay in your cart… we’re almost done.”

And without even thinking about it, I said, “Can I help you empty your cart?” I didn’t even wait for her response, as I leaned in, sling-free this time, and started pulling out the heavy cans of juice, the potatoes, and the bulky toilet paper. She was so grateful, and I muttered something about having four, and have been through this, and then she looked amazed, in addition to being grateful.

By the time I was pushing my own cart out of the store, there were tears in my eyes. And I realized that I didn’t empty that cart for her, as much as I did for myself… for all those years when it was so hard and exhausting and no one was there to empty my own. And the joy I know feel of having to survivied.


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