Ever shopped at Trader Joe’s on a Sunday morning?
I’m sorry — did I say TRADER JOE’S?
I meant RAGER JOE’S, which is what I call it the second I pull into the parking lot and realize that the person who designed their goddamn tiny-ass parking lots probably also devises evil Halloween corn mazes in his or her spare time for shits ‘n giggles.
For the record, I HATE Halloween corn mazes. They’re right up there with puppets, clowns, carnies and Victorian dolls in terms of fear and loathing.
The saddest part about this particular Sunday morning excursion is that it came on the heels of a perfectly delightful group meditation session.
Astute readers of this here blog know that I’ve been working with some pent up aggression of late. Trying hard to stop being so damn scrappy, letting go of grudges and generally doing the work to get centered and be a happier, healthier human being.
I didn’t lose it immediately — in fact, the second I walked in the store and heard the soothing strains of Hall & Oates, I took a deep healing breath and let it out while sniffing a few melons, which always calms me down.
But then, predictably enough, the offenses began to mount. Ear-splitting howls of a shopping cart bound, tantrum-throwing child drowned out the dulcet tones of the TJ’s soundtrack. There was a pile-up between the produce and meat areas that kept me trapped in front of raw chicken for several minutes longer than I would’ve liked. A lady yammering away on her cell phone was parked right in front of the olive oils so I had to uncomfortably shift around her in order to grab my favorite extra virgin. (That sounds dirty but believe me, it wasn’t fun.) Finally, a dust-up in the wine section completed the half-hour horror show, confirming my theory:
Sunday shopping at Trader Joe’s is totally Dante’s 10th Circle of Hell.
I know, I know — first-world problems, right?
But still, I was truly bummed that the post-mediation calm was so quickly replaced with anger and frustration.
And then, a funny thing happened on the way out of the parking lot.
Unlike getting in, which can take an eternity, getting out was relatively quick. A half-dozen cars hauled ass out of the lot ahead of me, and as I turned the corner to the back exit, I saw a woman and her teen daughter standing quietly against the cement wall.
The ladies were dressed in their Sunday best — the mom wore a colorful skirt and a pretty pink sweater; the daughter had on skinny jeans, cute sandals and a magenta and black striped top.
They could’ve been anyone I knew, except I didn’t know them. And when I looked more carefully, I realized why.
In the woman’s hand was a cardboard sign that said, “We’re hungry and need food. God bless you.”
My first-world problems didn’t have shit on theirs.
I pulled over and filled a bag of groceries, which I handed to the mother. I also happened to have in my trunk a bright yellow Forever Tiny One bag stuffed to the gills with outgrown clothes that I’d intended to drop off at Good Will. The daughter took the bag with a shy smile.
Don’t think for a minute I’m writing this to pat myself on the back. Actually, I drove away feeling like a complete dick. All that ridiculous frustration about food shopping. I didn’t have to think twice about any of it — the money for the groceries, the time, the wheels to get me to and fro, the house that has a refrigerator and pantry to stick it all in — none of it.
By the time I got home, I was pretty worked up. It got worse as I looked around and noticed that the chores I’d asked my kids to do before I left (put away their laundry, clean up their rooms) still weren’t done. They were out to lunch — literally — so I sent them a relatively calm text saying as soon as they were done, they should come right home and do what I’d asked them to do.
Then my oldest sent a sarcastic text back (which is not totally out of character for our family text chains), and I lost it.
“I’m SO DAMN SICK of asking you guys multiple times to do what you should know is your responsibility. It’s not funny.”
The hasty sorry I got in response did nothing to stop my spinning.
“I just gave groceries and clothes to a girl and her mom and a bag of hand me downs, too. We have so much – gotta realize how HOW LUCKY YOU ARE TO HAVE A ROOM, NEVER MIND STUFF IN IT.”
Full words + all caps in a text – heart-blowing happy face emoji = SCREAMING MOMMY LOSING HER SHIT.
Minutes later, my contrite kids rushed through the door and went straight to their rooms to do what I’d asked. Still, I couldn’t help thinking that all my raging, not to mention elaborate playing of the mom-guilt card, didn’t really shift anything.
I thought about earlier in the day at my group meditation when the leader talked about how we all have stresses and grief in our lives. Someone who’s lost a loved one, even a pet, can feel as traumatized as someone who’s in an abusive relationship. Comparing our lives from afar to others’ in order to force empathy is not necessarily a fruitful act — especially when it’s not even something you’ve experienced firsthand.
Recognizing that we are not alone in our suffering is where things really begin.
Take away qualifiers around words (for example, first-world) and problems are problems.
I thought back to the women I gave the clothes and the groceries to. We didn’t utter a single word to one and other, but I got her. I have a daughter around the same age, and while feeding her is a big chunk of what I do every day, I know she’d much rather have a bag of cute new outfits to wear.
I could relate 100% on that level.
I know I would do whatever it takes to provide for my kids.
Again, relating 100% on that level, too.
So while I didn’t know the other mom’s particular story, as soon as I dropped my assumptions about what I didn’t know about her, and moved to a place of relating and understanding from a place I did know, all that anger and frustration faded away.
Also, once I stopped judging myself and gave myself a little love, some genuine happiness and yes, gratitude rolled in.
Because after all, being grateful isn’t about making yourself feel bad that you have more or a better situation than someone else; it’s all about finding the good in whatever comes your way, and focusing your attention and appreciation on that. And paying it forward is a sure way to bring some positive connection into your day to day.
This is also the point of the short play, which is now being turned into a short film, that I wrote called Home is Where the Park Is.
The tagline for the movie is, “We’re all just one breakdown away…”
It’s the human condition, y’all. Strip away the preconceived notions of one and other, and you’ll always be surprised at how much we have in common.
Speaking of Home is Where the Park Is, the Kickstarter campaign to fund the film is going on for the next three weeks. It’s all about what you gain when you lose things — like a vehicle that works, your cell phone, your dignity, your sanity (even temporarily) and how you find the more important stuff along the way.
Your support at any level is greatly appreciated! https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/781458664/home-is-where-the-park-is
Speaking of breakdowns, I recently had an amazing opportunity on the React Channel’s “Lyric Breakdown” to analyze the words of Kendrick Lamar’s, “How Much a Dollar Cost” from his Grammy award-winning, critically acclaimed album To Pimp a Butterfly. President Obama called the song his favorite of the year — check out the lyrics and you’ll understand why:
So if you see pimpin’ for the Home Is Where the Park Is Kickstarter, just remember the cost to make a difference is as low as a little spare change, but what you get from supporting an arts project that is all about starting the conversation to make the shift from apathetic to empathetic is priceless.
Namaste my bitches!