"The best lack all conviction, while the worst
"Are full of passionate intensity."
-- W.B. Yeats
Go back one week. I need to buy few things at the grocery store, but one thing you can't buy is time. Circling the parking lot, I scope out the closest parking spot to the front door. My plan is to swiftly pluck my three items, hit the express lane and be back home before any more time has expired. The radio crackles with news of shootings and impeachment. I turn it off with a flourish as I ease my car into the empty stall near the entrances. There, that was easy.
A man on a mission. Three items. Miles to go before I sleep. I am striding toward the automatic door when suddenly I see her. It is an elderly woman who looks to be no more than 5 feet tall. She is pushing a shopping cart, but it is clear the cart is also functioning in part as a walker. One step, stop. Two steps, stop. I see we are converging on the entrance on a collision course. No time for pleasantries. My brain swiftly calculates the necessary acceleration to bypass this unforeseen traffic slowdown. I'm on a mission, after all. Three items. Miles to go. I look at her more closely as I prepare to execute my passing maneuver. Her face seems worn and troubled. I see the effort each step takes her. Time will have to wait.
Stopping in front of the door, it automatically opens, sensing my presence. But I have stopped because I sense her presence. She stops with her cart and looks up at me, partly in curiosity, partly in surprise. "Please go ahead of me," I say as I gesture toward the open door with false conviction. This shouldn't take long, I think. It's the right thing to do, I think. Suddenly a large smile spreads out on her face. "Oh no, I'm much too slow! You go ahead," she responds with the smile growing even larger. "I'm in no hurry at all," I answer, matching her smile but not her honesty. And with that, she begins to slowly push her cart through the interior atrium of the store. One step, stop. Two steps, stop. If we are slouching toward Bethlehem as the radio earlier suggested, it's going to take a while. Those three items will have to wait.
"I've been sick all this past week," she begins as if we are old friends. "With Thanksgiving over, I've run out off several things. My, it's good to finally get out of the house for a bit." I smile. I hear the sincerity of her words and respond in kind. She is no longer invisible. Entering the store, we part as if old acquaintances. "You have a great day," I say to her as I turn to leave. I almost believe it myself.
Back to the mission. With the first item secured from the produce department, I swiftly head to the meat counter. The man in front of me tells the butcher, "I want 16 ounces of salmon." "So, you want a pound then?" he replies to the customer. "Don't you know how many ounces there are in a pound?" the customer sneers back. The butcher glances at me, and I return his smile of defeat. Back to reality, I think. Two items down, mission almost accomplished. There is a tap on my shoulder. My lady with the shopping cart has returned. "I need oregano but can't seem to find it?" "No problem," I respond with a smile. Mission temporarily disengaged. "Let me take you to it."
Every day becomes yesterday before you know it. Time marches on for all of us, no matter how busy we try to be -- pretend to be. We turn ourselves inside-out just to find we're already home. Sometimes the feeling of irrelevance can overwhelm us. Sometimes we just need to reach out for some human connection. And yes, sometimes our smartest self can override our stupidest self to slow down and help a new friend find the oregano.
NAN Our Town on 12/12/2019