The Time I Went To The Store With Nothing And Came Out With Something I’d Forgotten All About

Nothingness.

The harder I try the further it goes. When sometimes the faucet is turned all the way up and thoughts come flooding out, the tides turn and the well dries up, and there is a nothingness in place of thoughts as desolate and as vast as a never-ending desert.

Writer’s block, stagnation, plateauing, blocked chakras, feeling a little rusty; whatever one calls this predicament, for me it comes and it goes. Just as is life, it ebbs and it flows. And every time it waxes and it wanes, I feel it. I sense the rush in, and I sense the draining out. Creativity. Artistry. Elusive thoughts that can’t be bottled and then spilled out onto the page unless they want to be. It feels a bit like being a little girl, eagerly chasing the fireflies off into the night. Glorious, tiny bursts of light, darting and swirling. Too fast to catch most times, but mesmerizing to follow their trail of light, zig-zagging through the air.

And just as I begin to wonder when then the tide will come back in, it shows me it already has.

Yesterday I was getting groceries. We needed milk and bread and creamer and diapers. All of the essentials that make our normal life feel mundanely so. Peanut butter. Cilantro. Bagels and cream cheese. Eggs of course, another week of the same staples to make the same rotations and perhaps if I feel inventive, surprise them with one that feels new.

I had the Dainty and the Bean in toe. Both reluctant shoppers in their own right. Bean hard to contain down the wide and inviting aisles, perfect for sliding, and spinning, and skipping. And his favorite these days- walking backwards. And The Dainty, a social experiment at every outing. Practicing the art of repetitive jovial toddler amusement, “Hi!, hi, hiiii, HIII! Hi” to every living, breathing audience member she passes, and they foolishly find her friendliness so adorable they stop to respond in kind. “Well hello!” “hi!” “Aren’t you cute, Hi there.” Different variations all lead to the same thing. Hooked. She pulls them in. A shy shrug and a beaming grin where eyes disappear into slits and teeth are the only thing you see prominently from this pint-sized commander of the shopping cart stage. She’s got you. They wait for another dose of adorable to spill all over aisle 9 and douse their day in warmth and innocence. What comes out of this comedian of nineteen months is more of the same; a game she has devised cleverly with her limited vocabulary but expansive social skills- “HI! HIIIIIIII!” at the top of her lungs. Not as cute anymore. “Hi.hi.hi.hi.hi.hieeeee!!!!!!!” Unsure of what to do next, stranger just gawks. Or pats her arm. Or awkwardly smiles. Understanding they have been cornered into a game The Dainty is delighted to have a willing participant for. Now we both awkwardly smile and turn our carts to walk away. I make some off-handed remark as I smooth The Dainty’s hair or straighten her shirt or pick up the shoe she has removed and hurled proudly at the floor to get a laugh, and as I tell her to sit still, I say, she only has a few words and just loves to bug perfect strangers, sorry. At this point, she generally likes to wiggle through, and then climb out of the well-crafted grocery cart buckle that was probably made by NASA and writher herself up and into the main body of the cart to sample the squishy loaves of bread between tightly held fists of iron. We wrestle for it, I mentally note to circle back for another loaf, and I move another three feet before her performance begins again- and what had I come down aisle 9 for in the first place? Now Bean wants to “just show me” something, the spiderman display of Doritos and Pepsi. Did we need Doritos? No, milk. That was it, I thought. Milk, bread, creamer, maybe cereal. Every week we were here, every week I forget what’s on my list that doesn’t change. The Dainty has found another friend to pepper with hi’s.

Outside things look the same, feels the same. Nothing is inspired, there is nothingness. Another homeless man at the curb, same sign, different man. A young mother with protruding belly and a little one tugging her hand to show her something over there- a bird maybe? Mother says, yes, yes, I see, but we’ve got to hurry now. Older man shuffling with his cane at what a snail might describe as a slow pace, unaware of the world blurring past him as faces dart by unaware of his world too.

Trips like these, doing mundane tasks are ordinary. Duties of life that are never checked off, just completed over and over indefinitely. Something comforting and irritating in that thought. If nothingness has set in, then it’s irritating. Bothersome. Tiresome. I wait, not so patiently for the ebb to resume to a flow and the thoughts to return from
usual to original. For the world to offer just the right dose of observation, perspective that I sense the tide turn and my voice resume.

I get to my car. The Dainty in first, then Bean. Grab her shoe one last time from the ground where she tossed it out of the cart at least 27 more times in protest to the faulty NASA strap tightening.

A younger lady waited while I strapped The Dainty into her seat. Thrashing still and shaking her head and emphatically proclaiming, “no! No! No!” to another restraint. I glanced her direction and said, I’m sorry. Even though I had arrived to my car first. She waved it off and said, “I’ve got nowhere to be, no rush on my end.”

That last bit caught me off guard. No rush? I thought. I wonder what that would be like. Why was I in a rush and she wasn’t? It struck me as strange though I couldn’t say why. A few minutes later, as I unloaded the last of my groceries in the back, I heard the same voice. “Here, I’ll take your cart back with mine.” I was stunned out of my daydreaming of wondering why I apologize so much. I had said sorry. I’m sorry. Sorry about that. Or some variation countless times during my rushed trip through the grocery store. Now the person whom I had just apologized to for my imposition while getting my two children and bread and milk and cilantro and other necessities into the car so I could rush off to whatever trail of zig-zagging light there was to chase down next; was, for the second time, telling me she was in no hurry. And that it was ok. And that she not just recognized, but acknowledged that I was in need. Her smile sincere. Her eyes even more so. Her lesson was clear- make time to be kind. Make time to show grace. Give it away freely. Life won’t come to a screeching halt if you find a moment to truly say I’m in no hurry. There is nothing worth rushing off to that is worth more than that.

Kindness. I had forgotten kindness. That was it! There was no big display or weekly coupon for it. It wasn’t on my list. And now this stranger with all the time in the world, had reminded me right there in the parking lot. I had grabbed everything else on my list off the shelves as I wove in and out of strangers trying to keep Bean from bashing into people as he swirled and skipped, and darted through the carts. I was sorry to all as my daughter tried to remind me too, but I didn’t even think to be looking for it there. In a grocery store, in the middle of the day, in the middle of a busy life. Kindness had escaped me. Where had it rushed off to? Somewhere important I suppose. Somewhere worth cutting off the car ahead for taking too long to turn, or somewhere at the doorway by not smiling back at the elderly man who held the door open for me and Bean and The Dainty, while replying with not much more than a vague “thanks” and without even meeting his kind smiling eyes to repay his kindness given to me. There were signs everywhere for it, and yet I missed them all.

Kindness and grace. It’s been a while since I’ve had something more than nothingness to spill out for you here. Seems these reminders are worth pausing my busy days in my rushed life, to share with you. I am giving you this story as the same gift I received in a grocery store parking lot. Acknowledgement. Kindness. Grace. A reminder, to add them to your list.

I care more about being good than being right, or on time, or sorry for two really wonderful kids just being kids. I will add these to my list and make sure I keep my mundane life stocked up. These are the bright lights zig-zagging through the darkness worth chasing. These are the staples, the real nourishment- and when they are rushed past or forgotten altogether, all that’s left is
nothingness.

I want more than that. I got more than that yesterday along with my peanut butter and my squished up bread.

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