SACRED GROUND AT THE CHECKOUT LINE By John Watts

grocery-shopping

When you remove yourself long enough from chasing your tail in circles with electronic media obligations; you might just notice some radically different doses of reality to freshen your outlook.  Namely that human beings continue to keep on doing some pretty kind and compassionate things under the radar on a daily basis all the time.  And it is in those quiet, unheralded moments, that much consolation and comfort can be derived if you open up your radar enough to notice.

For me, I find a bedrock of hope at my local shopping center just taking stock of local retail or grocery store encounters involving myself and others.  That’s right.  Nothing fancy.  No courses or trainings required.

There’s no better time than the present for witnessing radically transformative instances of deeply vital social interaction out in the public market place.

That means deliberately choosing NOT to dwell on the negative aggravations; like that bizarre twist of fate you just had to endure as a costumer in line behind the dreaded COUPON costumer ahead of you who made it her mission to sweat the most ridiculous small stuff imaginable.  It also means relaxing all those rigid political stances polarizing labels that encourage us to write off large segments of the population and assume the worst.

Along the way we need to pay attention to how we speak to one another.  That means shelving all of those off–putting catch phrases circulating around so trendily this century:  “talk to the hand” or “too much information.”  Choose to remove them from your conversational menu.

Those are just the trendy, soul sapping kind of disclaimers that unimaginative people everywhere cling to in order to justify their own lack of warmth.

Don’t believe any of it.

We are exactly where we need to be in life.  Learning opportunities abound.

We are imminently teachable!

For I see breakthroughs and encouraging revelations all the time.

Let’s look at the privileged role we get to play in this democracy when it comes to our public roles of shopper, patron and employee.  The money transaction is only the surface function.  Think of what fills in all the rest.

Politeness is more than just a book of etiquette.  It has the potential to be the manifestation of one kind soul impacting another.

 I have one such encounter as a matter of fact that I recently witnessed at the local grocery store.  The man ahead of me was right at the verge of making his payment.  As he punched in his phone number it was obvious to anyone listening that he and the grocery clerk had talked before and developed a rapport.  The costumer started it off by mentioning what little sleep he had had the previous night.  The clerk nodded his head empathetically appearing to already know the man’s situation.  The customer went on to unload about the sleepless night he had had assisting one of his aging parents deep in the throes of acute Alzheimer’s.  He then flash backed and retold precious stories of him and his father when they were younger.  The clerk said little yet exactly what was needed.

And I listened with my head bowed while unloading my groceries while the conversation bounced around miraculously in the space of getting a receipt and coupons.  Somehow they went from the sadness of the parent’s condition to the weather and some funny antidotes about getting through the work week.  There was nothing the clerk could say to take away the man’s situation or pain, but there was an unmistakable air of peace and communion on the costumer’s face as he exited out of the grocery store.

And as a by-product of the same ripple effect, I felt ennobled just from listening instead of dwelling on how speedy they went through the line.  And it made me feel as filled up as a good Hollywood movie review; you know those kind of write ups that end by saying something like, “I laughed.  I cried.  I was inspired.”

Was this interaction essential for either man’s career advancement?  Was this a contact that might be financially lucrative for him someday?  No.  Were they friends?  In most people’s eyes, no.

No minutes of a meeting were logged.  No mandatory ANYTHING took place.  And yet I tell you, what transpired was imminently more MANDATORY and essential than any formal meeting could be.  It served as a much needed brush with humanity.

Politicians deep in campaigning love to impart their stories of meeting regular “Joe Plummer” types along their campaign trail so as to illustrate some point about their qualifications and conversely, their rival’s flaws.  But what we need to care about most is the PROCESS—the endless adventure of all these little anonymous interactions.

It recalls to mind an ancient story I read in which a soldier going to war frantically feels spiritually unprepared and so asks the Zen Master what the secret to life was.  The Zen Master simply says, “Pay attention.”  That’s it in a nutshell.  And I find that bit of advice to be very fitting to this little ode to the public marketplace.  We need to be paying attention to every greeting and interaction with others and remain in those trenches always.  Unexpected supplies of inspiration are ours to be had when we do.

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About John Watts

I like to write transcendental community based essays and stories along with photo journalism pieces.
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