I am not a man who does not know his way around the grocery store. And I have my preferences. For some reason the layout of Dominick's appeals to me.
Probably there is some primeval logic to this. The way the vegetables sit so patiently for attention. The deli meat counter faces west. Who knows?
As you move through the grocery store it is impossible not to notice the people. Women with their families in mind. Meals to make? Men with their ballcaps on, walking with that distracted look on their face that some men get in grocery stores. What am I forgetting? What did she/he say? Hope I'm remembering everything.
They don't put mirrors in grocery stores for all the above reasons. People don't want to see themselves when they're shopping for food. For those of us with comfort food issues and a few pounds to lose (it's all relative, people) mirrors remind us of the struggle.
So what do we do? We look at other people. Quickly inspect their carts. What looks good in there that I should not have?
They do play music at the grocery store. As I was walking past the last stretch of the meat bins with the hamburger and chicken laid out in shiny packages, and I was moving toward the milk and orange juice in freezers, a song came over the loudspeakers. A song I know so well from youth, when I was 10 years old and putting models together with glue. The memory is very specific and real to me. Time bends when I hear it.
"He's a real Nowhere Man, sitting in his Nowhere land, making all his nowhere plans for nobody..."
I sang along, then heard another voice singing in front of me. I smiled and said to her, "It's still a great song, isn't it?"
She took off her glasses and said, "Is that Chris Cudworth?"
We exchanged quiet smiles and she told me who she was. The older sister of a girl I'd dated a few times when home from college. I always liked that girl. She had twinkling eyes. And she knew how to kiss. That was enough for both of us at the time.
"I'm so sorry about your wife," the woman in the grocery store told me. "Susie's been crying for you too. She's always had a soft spot for you."
What a sweet, meaningful thing to say at that moment. Then the woman in the grocery store felt compelled to tell me a story.
"I work in Real Estate, you know. And all this week I've been crying about Father Bob, from St. (name withheld). He just died a bit ago. So they asked me to go through his place and get it ready for sale. So I was walking through the house and came to a part where there was a T in the layout. Most people would have used that spot in the house for a play area for the kids. But as I walked into the T, I found there was a small altar at one end, and a cross at the other. It stunned me to realize this is where he would hold his own daily mass. It was such a private and beautiful space, with a kneeler in front of the flimsy wooden altar. And I told them they should make sure that altar goes to a young priest. It is all worn and such. It was just so special to see."
I stood leaning over the cart listening to her tell the story of how much that space meant for her to see. To witness that precious aspect of someone's life is special indeed.
We parted ways with a simple goodbye and I turned up the cereal aisle to face the ugly music of how cereal companies lie to us and manipulate us. Cereal boxes are evil incarnate, and so is the pricing of such cereals. You cannot possibly tell if you are getting a so-called "good deal" or not. You might see a price that says 2-for-1 for $4.99 and realize you're still only getting 3/4 of the cereal contained in one box that says $3.99. Cereal boxes really symbolize everything that was once good and may now be wrong with the world. Twisted logic. It used to be cereal companies competed to deliver the most value. Now it's the opposite. It signifies that we can't seem to be honest about anything, lest we learn the real value, or lack of it, incarnate in the things we consume. It's horrific really.
Standing there among the sexily clad cereals in their skimpy boxes I looked up to see a partially hunched figure passing by with her own little cart pushed ahead of her. The woman's hair obscured her face, and some malformation of her hip caused her to limp. She was talking to herself a little as she passed by, adding up some equation in her head whilst trying to figure out what she was going to buy next.
When my shopping was finished, I headed to the checkout line and found myself in line behind the woman I'd seen just a few minutes before. She was jabbering happily to the checkout woman about how her cat no longer needed insulin and the groomer was going to patch up the animal's fur. She also owned a dog apparently, and was obviously proud of her pets. The checkout woman literally threw me a separation bar so I could start loading my groceries on the belt. I smiled to let her know there was no big hurry. We were the only two people in line.
While waiting for the rather long process with the woman cashing in coupons and pulling out cards to pay for her groceries (which by the way seemed sensible enough) I looked outside and noticed that the rain was again coming down quite hard. It had begun to pour the minute I stepped into Dominick's and I stopped to look back out the door in the presence of another man who was standing there silently watching rainy cats and dogs popping up from the parking lot. So I remarked, "It's really something how much rain we're getting, huh?"
The man said nothing. Just stared at the rain. Perhaps he was waiting for someone. I heard him breathe a little sigh. Maybe he did not wish to be bothered. So I walked away.
But now it was raining again, and just as hard, and it was obvious the walk back to the car could be a wet one. You could see the fluorescen t street lights reflecting brightly on the parking lot.
I nodded to the checkout gal as she also made note of how hard it was raining. Then I realized that the woman in front of me in line was talking about walking home to her house by the Fire Station off Fargo in Geneva.
"Excuse me," I asked her. "Are you going to walk all that way with your cart?"
She looked up at me then. Her face was made up in the most marvelously dramatic fashion. Too much mascara. Bright red lipstick. The upper part of her smile was somewhat broken. But she smiled broadly and said, "It wasn't supposed to rain until later on!"
I glanced at the checkout gal and turned back to the woman with her little cart and her groceries. "Let me drive you home, if that's okay," I told her. "There's plenty of room in my car for your cart. That way you won't get all wet."
"That's nice," the checkout gal said. But a compliment was not necessary. There was no way any human be ing, upon thinking about that woman walking home in the rain, should do any differently.
I pulled the car up and loaded her nifty little cart in the back. Then I threw my own groceries in the back seat.
It didn't take but a few moments inside the car to realize the woman smelled pretty strong, probably of cat urine, or so I hoped. Oh well, I thought. It's not the end of the world. The end of the world does not smell like cat urine or anything like that, I figured. I am told the end of the world smells of fire and brimstone. But if you trust a literal interpretation of Revelation the end of the world probably smells like cosmic horse shit if the the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse legend is true.
Either that, or it's your own pants that will stink at that point, because a sight like that is sure to scare the shit out of you.
And such a concept! Some even say it is all coming to fruition soon. One radio preacher even predicted the day, but proved himself wrong, once again. I don't choose to believe in all that crap. And I'm sorry for the bad language, but not really. Some things are not better left unsaid.
But the truth of the experience this evening really does deserve being said: just because someone stinks it is not the end of the world.
The woman's name was Patty. And she repeated the story about her kitty cat and the vet or groomer or whoever else was taking care of her prized pet. She directed me to drop her off at a very nice townhome near the west side Fire Station. Then she said thank you while carefully pronouncing my name. "Thank you, Christopher."
I don't share this story as some sort of self-aggrandizement or because I want you to think I'm sort sort of saint. St. Dominick or something. I share it because I know that many of you do kind things for others too, and to encourage you to keep doing that. It all comes flowing back, you know. But that's not the motivation for doing it.
The motivation for doing it is because St. Dominick's Rain falls on all of us at some point in life. And if someone can be there for you, I wish it to be true. And if you can be there for someone else, I wish that for you too. Because you'll find the experience to be equal, in terms of rewards. Gratification at helping others is its own reward, whereas being helped by others sometimes requires a heap of humility. But we all get wet when we walk in the rain together.
St. Dominick's Rain is the price of living, with all its flaws. Our cereal costs too much. People lie and deceive. But the saint who appreciates that these things are not the end of the world can find ways to make the world a better place. Through kindness to each other we overcome what the world throws at us. Then when the rain comes when we least expect it, we do not panic.
As the beneficiary of so much kindness over the years from so many, including strangers, I just like to share that gratitude if at all possible. And the kind woman whose sister I once dated, singing Nowhere Man in the grocery store and not caring one whit if someone else heard her, that was a gift given and received. Kindnesses and a great story were exchanged. She got to tell someone about her experience in the home of the recently deceased priest and his little altar and the sanctified space she will never forget. You could tell she wanted to share.
When she walked out into St. Dominick's Rain that evening it might have felt a little different. Perhaps she didn't even care if she got a little wet on the way to the car. Sometimes that's all we can pray for. A little perspective as the rain falls. On all of us.