The Universe was in a bad place today, at least on my axis. But the tilt back came, it just took a bit of sideways looking. As is always the case, the deep breath, the pause, the chocolate…these things calibrate.
Bags. Let’s begin there. Not with the flu, and then upset belly I’ve had for two weeks, the doctor’s appointments, and the general unrest of certain significant aspects of my life right now. No. Let’s just start with regular old plastic bags. And let me preface this by saying, not only do I not condone plastic bags, but I also don’t condone ranting about other human beings on a regular basis. I know too many people whose only regular mode of small talk is to bitch about other people. It’s boring and draining and, in my opinion, says more about the complainer than the supposed affronts committed against said complainer. But for a moment today, I let myself go there, to wonder why some of us are so damn complaint-worthy.
Back to the bags. You see, I had a few old-faithful reusable bags. Cute ones, even, from Whole Foods, with neat graphics, and made of recycled water bottles. Well-worn but dependable. However, I’m now down to one bag. Last fall, there was a major cultural travesty enacted on the citizens of my small hometown east of the mountains. In an effort to promote less plastic in landfills through the use of reusable bags, shoppers have been forced to begin paying a few cents for plastic bags at grocery store. It’s been a rather large scandal for some. A flat out expensive and illogical annoyance, I’ve heard. During a couple of visits, I left a pair of my reusable bags with family members—not only do they transport wine and Triscuits perfectly over Snoqualmie pass, they stow very nicely in the seat pockets of most cars. What an invention! Oh, and there’s the fact that they keep plastic bags (which NEVER degrade, no matter what Fox News tells you) out of landfills. Good deed done. Nickels saved. However, now, I’m down to that one fabric tote from PCC. I’ve been forgetful (and did I say, pretty fricking ill) for a while now, so haven’t replenished my supply.
So back to today, I finished up a quick shopping trip at Fred Meyer, enough to overfill my large canvas bag and require two plastic shopping bags. (I confess, they are handy for the litter box, so getting a couple now and then is unavoidable). I wheeled my small cart to the return area at the entrance and reached down to gather the three bags in my arms. As soon as I turned, one of the plastic bags basically disintegrated, leaving a flap of plastic handle over my wrist, yogurts, applesauce and a loaf of wheat bread scattering onto the concrete floor. Sighing, I placed the other two bags back in the basket, scuttled about, then squatted to gather my dropped groceries, while the whole time waves of after-work shoppers maneuvered around me. A woman hesitated with her cart, angling it to get past me to the door. “I’m sorry,” I murmured, “My bag broke.”
“Huh,” she said with a tight-lipped smile, and wheeled herself through the exit. I hurriedly stuffed the loose items into the remnants of the plastic bag, hefted up my load, only to realize that once more, the plastic gave way. Yogurt once again crashed to the floor. Moving at the speed of embarrassment and wanting to get the hell out of there, I overfilled the canvas tote and turned quickly toward the door. This is when I discovered someone had parked a shopping cart right behind me, in my path, as I was recovering my items. I stopped short, nearly toppling over the metal cart, then scooted around it. As I glanced back toward my cart, checking for forgotten things, I caught the eye of a man sitting on a bench in the entry way. He had been watching me the whole time.
What a gentleman, I huffed silently. Somewhere in the parking lot, I realized that my soul was teetering toward sadness. Not one person had bent down to lend a hand; no one had even made a good-natured joke about the shitty plastic bags, or made a move to push a cart out of the way. If it had been me seeing someone struggling…. Sigh…. if it had been me. But it doesn’t matter, does it? I think to myself, slamming the hatch of the MINI closed and pulling out into traffic.
To soothe myself, I clicked the radio over to NPR. Something about their voices, the measured messaging, the way I feel smarter just by paying attention (even if I don’t know what the heck is really going on in India right now). But then—oh, Universe, so sad today—the story of a woman at the Anacortes ferry dock ribbons out from the speakers. The boats had been delayed due to the woman in a Jeep, who accelerated through the gate arm, driving straight into the sea. Her body and vehicle were recovered hours later. Witnesses say she had idled in the loading lot for a while, and at some point, turned her vehicle around, going the wrong way in the toll line. It sounded to me as if she were trying to leave, to drive away from the loading dock, away from the water, to change her mind. But then,the witnesses say, she stopped, turned the car back around, pushed the gas pedal and sped off the edge pavement.
Sitting at the traffic light, the last of the resolve held fast by my inner strong girl just let go. Here I was fighting with plastic bags and harried, silent suburbanites, when somewhere, this afternoon, a woman decided she had nothing in this world to keep her here any longer. She decided that feeling icy waters fold over her, to stop her heart forever, was less terrifying than waking up another day. The stoplight turned green as the story ended; I let out the clutch, and moved toward home, feeling untethered. Why is this world so hard on some of us, on that woman? Fuck my broken bags.
Why all this energy now, this hard, gritty, closed-up, dim energy that seems to float around so, so many. I ache for her, for her pain when she put her car into gear, when she drove toward the water. I ache for her family, who probably tried to love her, but didn’t really know how to make her believe it. I ache for every person who shakes their head and says “But she was just selfish.” I ache for them to know what it takes for a person to decide to close the book of their lives for good.
I drove home in the wet. And as I neared my turn, I looked up at the incessant dim of the January sky just in time to see a patch of blue. One little, pale patch holding fast behind the cape of bruised rain clouds being shuffled away by some invisible gust. Ok, that’s something, I thought.
I’m going to be grateful, I decided, for that bit of sky. I’m going to be grateful for the ability to still bend over to gather my own spilled groceries without help, grateful that my soft heart inflates as easily as it is crushed (ah, the gift and curse of a highly sensitive person). I’m going to be grateful I never drove into the sea, even when I’ve thought it might not hurt so bad. And in this moment, I’m going to be especially grateful to know that right now I don’t have to solve it all. For now, all I need to do is tuck in my chickens for the night, watch my DVR’d shows and eat my favorite once-a-year treat, this Cadbury Crème Egg, which didn’t fall out of my ripped shopping bag onto the dirty floor.
We must all do our best to find the way back. To set the tilted axis back to center. We simply must breathe and feel and find some good. And I believe when we do, the Universe lets us know it was there the whole time.