I always think that the person in front of me in the check out line at the grocery store is the items they’re buying. The thick thirty-something with the five o’clock shadow buying a half gallon of ice cream, frozen fish sticks, and a case of Miller Lite is single, probably lazy. The woman in jeans and sneakers, her hair pulled back with a colored elastic buying diapers and milk is a frantic mother of a few boys who hasn’t got time for stylish dressing. The diminutive woman with pouffed white hair and orthopaedic shoes buying canned vegetables, bran cereal and Pecan Sandies is a retired school teacher who lives alone now.
Today when I checked out at Costco I thought about this in reverse. The man behind me was thinking, The enormous box of size three diapers means she has a baby, but not an infant. Her house is probably a disaster. This is compounded by the fact of that fifty pound bag of “large breed” dog food — lady has a baby and a large dog. The organic spinach means she’s really healthy, but wait, she has a bag of sweet kettle corn the size of a toddler, so the spinach is a ploy. The apples. She doesn’t have much time perhaps, eats on the go. So she’s a young mother trying to keep a large dog away from a baby, trying but failing to be healthy. She’s showered, so that’s something. She’s also alone and tapping her foot, meaning she’s rushed.
And all of that is true, but there is more! I am more than my groceries! First of all, I forgot the laundry detergent, socks and fleece PJs I meant to buy. I also forgot to look at books, bath towels, candles and cleaning products because I had a very small window of opportunity before I had to be home to take Jack so Mark could get to his soccer game. This all means that the man behind me was right about the disaster, the not much time, the rushed. What the man behind me doesn’t know is that the baby is really chubby, but so very sweet and laughing all the time. The dog is more than I can handle, but she’s pretty. The spinach is for a soup I plan to make for my family on Sunday evening, and the kettle corn is what I eat every single night before bed. He’s right about the apples. He thinks this woman is that cart, meanwhile I think about ten million swirling things as we wait in the long line.
You can never know what is going on in someone’s world. The thirty-something may be a dad who’s wife is away for the weekend on a girls trip, trying to keep his kids fed. The pony tail is probably a mom, but maybe she works nights as a nurse and one of her kids isn’t white, is adopted from Korea. The old woman? Maybe she volunteers at the Children’s Hospital, something that gives her joy. Who knows? Isn’t it funny how we think that people are their groceries?
My sister and I took our kids to visit our parents this week. Girls up front, our babies in the middle, and her two older in the back. The road trip was really just a mess. The boys in the back watched movies, throwing chicken nuggets and french fries on the floor, sticking stickers on the windows when we didn’t even know it was stickers that came in their happy meals. The babies slept some, cried a good bit, did their needy baby thing. We split driving (I mostly drove) and whomever wasn’t driving was climbing around the back meeting various needs of various children. It was hilarious and stressful and loud and long, we almost hit a few deer, but we had fun. The older boys were watching the stampede scene in Lion King when Mufasa dies when we heard this conversation:
“Jon-fin, Jon-fin, Jon-fin (trans: Jonathan)!”
“Jon-fin, what are dose?! Dose bugs? Dose bugs, Jon-fin?”
“No, they are not bugs.”
“What are day???”
That was kind of the way the whole journey was. On the way home we were stopped on the highway because of an accident. The kind of stopped when people turn off cars, get out and walk the shoulder, make friends with the truckers to find out what the CB is saying. We opened the windows, Hannah got out and bounced a screaming Sam in the middle of two lanes, someone (not specifying) used the bathroom. It was a comedy, but I kept thinking about what everyone around us thought of our car. Those poor, crazy girls with four children, they probably don’t have husbands, they’re a mess. How erroneous a judgment! Sort of.
What the hypothetical man behind me at Costco missed, what I miss when I size up someone based on his groceries, is the opportunity for a whole universe of life. My thwarted imagination only gives this much room, when a room the size of a football stadium is really required. I need to remember that I am not the only one who is more than my groceries! How many worlds there are within the world in which we live!