OK. What do you need to know?
First, this has been perhaps the weirdest period of my life.
Second, I’m in a heightened state of self-observation, trying to catch thought, feeling and bodily sensation in reaction to my experience.
Third, I was planning to make guacamole
[which, if you ask nicely, I’ll post my recipe for – it gets great reviews]
so I was at the supermarket.
We were having some friends over for Labor Day
[attention Brits, that would be ‘Labour Day’, but we lost the colony a long time ago – seems like the letter ‘u’ is just, like, soooo colonial, maaaan]
for a barbecue and I was making guacamole, so as usual, I ran out to the supermarket a day early to get my ingredients. I was under time pressure, so moved quickly around the supermarket, ending up at the registers
[attention Brits, that would be ‘tills’, but we lost the… Oh, never mind]
carrying a heavy basket and an enormous bottle of milk.
Oh, and Fourth – I’ve had a very bad back for the past few weeks.
As I stood in line, my back was aching and the woman in front of me was faffing about with the debit/credit swipe pad. I put my shopping down on the conveyor, but my back wasn’t done with me. It ached and ached.
And she was faffing about, clearly unable to make the thing work.
She was probably in her mid-forties, a rich Caribbean accent, black.
My back was aching.
And I began to grow angry at this woman, who was in the way of me getting home to where I could deal with my back in peace. Why wasn’t she just admitting she didn’t know what she was doing and getting out of there?
She was discussing cash-back with the checkout assistant, who was telling her she had used a credit card, so couldn’t get cash. They agreed to push through a null transaction so that she could get cash-back.
And a piece of me was taking all that pain from my back, channeling it into frustration, ranting and raving away in my head. Some small part of that piece was noting the woman’s color
[I am honest about, and with, myself – and if you believe you don’t carry preconceptions about race, gender, sexuality, etc. you need to go to http://implicit.harvard.edu and try some of the demonstration tests]
and, because I was paying attention to my reaction, I caught myself doing that. Stopped, regained my centre, loosened my jaw from where it had been tensing, breathed.
And started listening.
The woman wanted $2 – what for, I don’t know. That was what she was saying to the assistant.
The cash-back screen appeared on the keypad and asked her if she wanted $20, $40, $60 or ‘Other’. Her hand flew to her cheek in a natural shock reaction that was mirrored in her voice, rich with her gorgeous accent : “That’s too much money! I don’t need that much money! I just need $2!”
She peered at the screen through screwed-up eyes. She needed glasses but wasn’t wearing any.
“How do I get $2?” she asked the assistant behind the counter.
“I don’t know if you can get $2,” the assistant replied.
And I was suddenly floating above the situation, spinning out a story – maybe this woman didn’t have $20 in the bank, maybe she just managed her finances very closely. Or maybe she was worried she’d get mugged for the sum of $20. And what of a system that controls how much of her own money she could ask for. It was her money, why couldn’t she have $2 if that was what she wanted?
I was on this woman’s side and feeling her frustration and confusion.
The bagging assistant came around to help the woman and they navigated to the ‘Other’ cash-back screen, entered $2 and waited. The transaction went through. The $2 was handed over, and the woman regained her shopping, smiled to both assistants with sincere, genuine thanks and left the supermarket. My eyes trailed her all the way out.
My goods moved along the conveyor.
I had guacamole to make.
And my back had stopped hurting.
* * *
I was driving up to Hartford yesterday with Jane and told her that I’d ‘had one of my moments’; recounting the above experience.
As I described things, I could feel again the pace with which the above unfolded – it was done and over in less than the time it took you to read it – and the speed with which I went through the following cycle:
Urgency/Frustration => Anger/Resentment => Judgement/Blame => Listening/Understanding => Acceptance/Connection
Because I’ve been so consciously observing myself in my own skin, these currents of energy are becoming more readily apparent. Of even greater interest is how this became a flow experience, how I naturally began to frame out stories of motivations and outcomes, bracketing the experience with a narrative that could help me walk in the woman’s shoes just a little way.
This summer has been weird, and its effect on me profound – I am more open to life than ever before.
And I have to say: the guacamole was outstanding.