Finding grace at Trader Joe’s

I’ve never really enjoyed grocery shopping, but COVID-19 has made me approach this ordinary task like a Navy SEAL. Gone are the days of just running in to pick up something. Grocery shopping today requires strategy – and PPE. Have mask, will shop.

So, I set out yesterday morning and went through my litany. List. Check. Wipes. Check. Sanitizer. Check. Anxiety. Check. I arrived at Trader Joe’s shortly before nine. Shout out to TJ’s – they have done an excellent job of adhering to safe distancing guidelines. There are blue tape strips on the sidewalk outside the store marking the magical six feet and they have a traffic controller outside only allowing so many people in the store at once. Meanwhile, another employee is constantly sanitizing carts. Once in the store – you’ll see more blue strips, reminding you to stay in your lane.

No one looks like they’re enjoying their outing. There are plenty of awkward moves as folks try to avoid each other while snagging a beautiful avocado. Things get a little more tense when you approach the bin where the highly sought after Danish Kringle resides. Behold the Kringle, a sinfully delicious Scandinavian flat ring of pastry. Trader Joe’s Kringle even has a calendar. True story – the flavors change every quarter and the most popular one, almond, comes out after Thanksgiving. I’m grateful that the COVID-19 Kringle is raspberry – not my favorite so no reason to risk my life to grab one.

I got the essentials – Greek yogurt, hummus and wine. And maybe some more wine. I head to the checkout and find myself behind a very elderly woman. It was a warm and sunny morning, but she was wearing a teal raincoat and had a floral scarf wrapped around her head (not her face). And she was wearing sunglasses. Think Little Edie without the cats.

Her cart was full of various canned goods – beans and tuna and such. She asked the cashier to give her a running total of what she was purchasing. Yes, I had definitely picked the wrong line (per usual) and as I rolled my eyes, I surveyed an escape route. I decided a pandemic is no time to be changing lines and took a deep breath. I must remind myself to do this several times a day now.

Meanwhile, the cashier was patiently and kindly calling out the total to Edie. When the grand total was announced – something close to $60, Edie started pulling out items for the cashier to remove from her bill. Clearly, she had a budget and she was not going over it. I thought for a moment of offering to pay for the discarded items, but there was the bold blue tape reminding me to stay where I was, and I wanted to respect this woman’s space and privacy. Once she got within her budget, she pulled out a roll of paper bills from her pocket. I’m pretty sure I gasped. Paper bills! Surely that’s where COVID-19 goes camping. The sweet cashier (who was wearing gloves) never missed a beat as she counted the multiple bills and gave the woman her change.

Edie didn’t want her items bagged – she told the cashier that she had plenty of room in her trunk. Then the cashier thanked her – again, most cheerfully – and told her she hoped she would enjoy the beautiful day. I was mesmerized by her genuine benevolence to this rather eccentric woman. Surely it could have gone another way with a different cashier.

She greeted me and I took my place in front of her plexiglass shield. And then I heard my own muffled mask voice speaking to her, “You were so kind and patient with that woman. You are a lovely person.” Once it was out, there was nowhere to go. She looked at me a bit surprised, but not startled and as she started to respond to me, I could tell she was tearing up. She said, “That is such a nice thing for you to say. Thank you.” And then I teared up and we both looked at each other through our masks and the plexiglass and into each other’s eyes. And I knew that she was smiling, too. It was the most intimate moment that I’ve experienced during this wretched quarantine. It felt like the passing of the peace.

Two strangers sharing communion through the plexiglass of a pandemic.

I’m fairly certain this is how we save each other.

Piss and vinegar

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Why, yes I am. Thanks for noticing.

This election has made a lot of us face some hard truths about our country and ourselves. I suppose the fact that Trump won (not the popular vote, of course) is the most sobering one for the 47.8 percent of Americans who supported Hillary Clinton. I can’t really give any more of my precious time or tears to Trump. I have too much work to do on myself.

I’m not who you think I am.  Perhaps I never was.

Maybe I was always really a radical trapped inside the exterior of the good girl and moderately sensible shoes. I just cared (note past tense) way too much about pleasing people to fully express my truths. That’s one reason I didn’t come out until I was well into my 30’s. I was afraid people wouldn’t like me and most of all, I did not want to disappoint my parents. They, of course, were not at all surprised that I was gay and only cared for my happiness and well-being but I still deeply regret all those years of not being fully known to them.

So for most of my sixty years I have operated under the adage that my dear departed daddy used to often tell me, “You can catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.” I don’t know why it never occurred to me to ask my father the obvious question all those years ago. Why the hell would you want to catch flies?

honeyfly

Exit polls reveal that voters prefer savory over sweet.And 3rd party voters prefer arsenic.

Yes, I know the phrase means you can attract more friends by being nice than by being rude. It just doesn’t apply to voters. Voters like vinegar. Bitter, stinging sour vinegar. Sort of like the taste that I have had in my mouth since November 8th.

Ironic isn’t it, since we liberals so glommed on to Michelle Obama’s passionate cry at the Democratic Convention back in July -“When they go low, we go high.” I know I clung to it like a personal floatation device – fully knowing that we had the moral high ground in this election. We repeated it on social media when Trump supporters would post vile commentary like, “Lock her up!” or “Drain the swamp”. I even shouted it at the first rally that Hillary  and Michelle appeared together at in my hometown a few weeks before the election.

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And then they win.

That rally was the day before FBI Director Comey released his letter, the October Surprise (i.e. Tsunami) – an unprecedented move 10 days before a presidential election. You remember – the one that pollsters and the media said had a very “marginal” effect on voters. At least that’s what they said before the election. Then after a lot of Wednesday morning quarterbacking, many of them proclaimed that it probably had a bigger effect than they had measured. Ya think? If there are any swamps to be drained, I hope Trump starts with the pollsters. Bye, Nate Silver. We are never ever getting back together.

I don’t know if that’s the main reason Hillary lost the election. I know I’ve read at least 1,412 theories on the subject, and I’m done agonizing over it. Bottom line: Trump was elected Lord of the Flies and now we have to put on our big girl panties and grab him and his minions by the balls to make sure that we don’t let an already great America go back.

As I often do in times of moral uncertainty, I turned to the words of Harvey Milk who said, “I have tasted freedom. I will not give up that which I have tasted.”

Oh. Hell. No.

I am flat-out worn out from being the good girl for so long. Oh, I’ve spoken out before  on issues near and dear to my heart – LGBT civil rights, HIV/AIDS stigma, Amendment One and HB2. But I’ve never really boldly crossed that “honey” line. I’ve bit my tongue over the years with some family, friends and colleagues when they’ve made comments that offend me and my ideals. God forbid I be accused of being a humorless liberal or too politically correct. Not me, people like me. They really, really like me.

Fair warning to all – my Sally Field phase is over. I’m acquiring a taste for vinegar. Vinegar gets shit done. Simma down, now. I’m not looking for a fight with anyone on either side but I’m sure as hell not going to default to sweet talking my way out of any either. I’m too old and there’s too much at stake.

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That would be nice but it’s no longer a deal breaker for me.

47.3% of voters may have booked passage on the Titanic but I see that iceberg ahead and I’m going to use my voice as the biggest baddest foghorn you’ve ever heard.

I’m angry and I’m going to fight tooth and nail for the America that I believe in – the America that is good and kind and loving – the America not hell-bent on preserving the white status quo – the America that is not afraid of someone being different – the America that celebrates being different.

I started to get a queasy feeling in my stomach the Sunday before the election. My wife and I drove over to Buena Vista, an upscale neighborhood in Winston-Salem, where we like to walk when the weather is nice. The streets are lined with gorgeous trees and there are sidewalks – it’s a great walking neighborhood and the houses there are big and beautiful and apparently, home to an awful lot of people who voted for Trump – at least if yard signs are any indication.

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True story.

I find it hard to believe that these folks were simply voting for change because it sure looks like they’ve been doing pretty darn well for a while. Just an observation.

The “R” word has been thrown around a lot this election cycle. No, not all Trump voters are racists but Charles Gaba, founder of ACASingups.net, nailed it in one short not so sweet tweet when he said, “Not all Trump supporters are racist, but all of them decided that racism isn’t a deal-breaker. End of story.”

Yes, there was lot of Flying the W this election and I’m not talking about the Cubs. White Makes Right could have been another big seller for Trump hat vendors this year.

Author Toni Morrison gives a blistering view on this ugly reality  in an essay this week in The New Yorker. You can read it here but here’s a stiff shot of it:

The comfort of being “naturally better than,” of not having to struggle or demand civil treatment, is hard to give up. The confidence that you will not be watched in a department store, that you are the preferred customer in high-end restaurants—these social inflections, belonging to whiteness, are greedily relished.

So scary are the consequences of a collapse of white privilege that many Americans have flocked to a political platform that supports and translates violence against the defenseless as strength. These people are not so much angry as terrified, with the kind of terror that makes knees tremble.

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Why we can’t have nice things.

I don’t want to be angry for four years because I still believe down deep in my bones in kindness as “the only thing that matters” as the wonderful poet Namoi Shihab Nye writes in her poem of the same name.

Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

What you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be between the regions of kindness.

The electoral map certainly highlighted a lot of desolation and I think we all lost a lot last Tuesday. Maybe now it’s finally time to think about all of this through a different prism than the red state/blue state one. I’m not crazy about purple either. I might suggest something like a burnt sienna as we navigate our new country in search of kindness.

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An Ariel view of the new electoral map.

But this is where my work is. I know I cannot dismiss all Trump voters as racist and a threat against me and my wife as gay Americans.. I would lose some family members and a few good friends if that was my moral litmus test.

I know I have to stop thinking of that man standing in front of me at Starbucks – the older white man with the big belly that is taking up the whole counter while he fixes his coffee – more cream, a shake of vanilla – while the rest of us wait – as my enemy because I think he looks like a Republican.

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I promise to do better. Tomorrow.

No, that’s on me to do better. But I will no longer go with the “honey” approach. I will speak the truth as I know it. I will be respectful and civil but I will no longer stop at the line that I drew for myself so many years ago when I bought into the good girl scenario.

The results of this election made me recall something a dear friend said to me years ago in the context of a professional dilemma I was experiencing. I was opting for the path of least resistance and staying on the high road in the situation. My friend said, “Addison, taking the high road is great but sometimes you can wind up in a ditch.”

Many of us have felt like we’ve been in a ditch this past week or so – or maybe even more like road kill. Anyway, there’s no AAA to pull us coastal elites out of this one. It’s on us and we better get started.

You can sleep while I drive.

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We’ve got a long way to go. Pack snacks.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Words with friends

I’m spending the last afternoon of 2014 doing something I hope to do a lot more of next year – writing.computer

I’m not making a resolution to write more, mind you, I’m just wishing it so.

Resolutions seem a bit old school these days. Even the sound of the word – resolution – is antiseptic and cold. Besides, couldn’t we all fill our attics – and basements – with empty well intentioned resolutions we’ve  abandoned over the years? They’re right over there in the corner with the ThighMaster.

My friend, Amy, had a great status update on Facebook the other day, declaring that she was not making any resolutions  but taking a one-word approach to intentions for the new year. Her word for 2015 is health and she hopes to focus on this word every day in some fashion.

Amy is the mother of a two year old so I don’t know how she has time to focus on anything extra but I can already tell by some recent updates that she’s off to a good start.

I’m a big believer in “less is more” so Amy’s post was intriguing to me and I started thinking about what I would want my word to be.

I tried out a few and then very quickly landed on one – kindness.

Just saying it out loud makes me feel better.

By definition

By definition

And I love how one word can cover so much ground – kindness to others – all others, yes, I suppose even Republicans and Time Warner Cable representatives. Hey, I didn’t say this would be easy.

I’m talking about real kindness – deeper than just helping the old ladies at my church out to their cars on Sunday after service or letting someone into a long line of traffic.

Kindness to my spouse. That one is pretty easy. I mean you really have to almost try to not be kind to someone named Joy who has a smile that could disarm Darth Varder.

Kindness to myself. Gulp. Somehow I think this one is going to be the toughest. Like most folks, I’m quite accomplished at beating myself up. Ironically, over the years, those beat downs have often been about failed resolutions.

Amy and Jules seem to be on the right path.

Amy and Jules seem to be on the right path.

I think Amy is on to something here.

And I think kindness has actually been stalking me for awhile. Over a year ago, my wife and I were having a very intense conversation about marriage and what was the most important thing we each wanted in a relationship. We both said, almost simultaneously, kindness.

So it was quite fitting that at our wedding in DC this past May, my best friend, Carla, read one of my favorite poems by Naomi Shihab Nye – “Kindness,” of course. It is an achingly beautiful poem and I hope you will read it at the bottom of this post.

It begins like this: “Before you know what kindness really is you have to lose things, feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth.”

I have lost many things over the past several years – things that I loved with my whole heart – and I think I do understand more clearly what kindness is.

Before you know what kindness is as the deepest thing inside, you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 

I think this goes way beyond “you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone” – this is an intentional way of being in the world and it takes a fair amount of courage to embrace it.

I think I’ve often tried to follow kindness in my life but this year, I’m hoping it will follow me so if I happen to stumble, I can just look over my shoulder and know that I’m still on the right path.

 

Kindness

Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.