Usually I’m much better at getting out ahead of the game. I’m organized, I don’t procrastinate. But this year I left a lot of shopping until the last minute. So I found myself trying to make it to seven different stores in heavy-traffic parts of town the week before Christmas. Oh god…
Every parking lot looked like a monster truck rally. Inside, shelves were disarrayed and picked-over, with weird bare spots like something essential had disappeared. And so many people! I’ve grown accustomed to the sparser occupancy of public spaces the past couple of years, and now crowds feel strange.
I wasn’t feeling jingly. More jangled.
Even though I’d been looking forward to this shopping day, and most of my errands were of the fun and festive variety — presents for kids, booze, baking supplies — I found myself impatient and anxious, annoyed that I was behind schedule, and stressed about money. So I started bracing myself with deep breaths in the car before entering every establishment, envisioning how to get in and out as quickly and with as little upset as possible. My mindfulness practice turned into an efficiency stratagem, a cold plan of maneuvers to minimize my un-enjoyment of the day.
But then people surprised me. Life surprised me.
Fellow customers were really, really friendly. My first thought was, “Where the heck did all these easygoing people come from?” It seemed like they were making an extra effort to smile with twinkling eye contact over their surgical masks. In the long checkout lines, which all moved faster than first appeared likely, I found myself in delightful chats with strangers. Store clerks belied my old, persistent complaint about service in Albuquerque — everyone’s cheery competence quickly melting my frosty, lowly expectations.
It happened over and over, things better than I had anticipated. People were good and gracious. I witnessed “after you” gestures and car-to-car waves from other folks looking for parking spaces. I saw two people at two separate lots returning others’ carts to the rack, so I joined in and helped out with that. I turned the radio back to a holiday music station, no longer concerned that “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” might make my head explode by coming on for the fifth time in an afternoon. What the heck? Let it play!
My favorite moment was at the supermarket, my final stop of the day, as I searched desperately for the last item on my list, an ingredient I’d never bought before. I had been up and down every aisle, not finding it, googling for possible substitutions. Finally I was about to give up and scrap the whole recipe, when another shopper asked me, “Are you looking for espresso powder?” I was startled, “I am! How could you tell?” She winked at me, “I know the look. Here, let me show you.”
The whole afternoon ended up being a reminder simply to let things be sweet, to notice when my own attitude really is the main thing getting in the way of life being pleasant.
I mean, yeah, I’m sure that I could have found all sorts of evidence for how disappointing things were, how lackluster. Some people weren’t returning shopping carts — whatever. But I wasn’t trying to justify my crummy mood. I could’ve, but I didn’t, I don’t know why.
I was… I don’t know… neutral, I guess. Because neither was I really looking for something to lift my spirits. Maybe that’s the thing — I wasn’t looking for anything, trying to prove anything.
I wasn’t trying to raise my own vibration or get back into the seasonal groove. I wasn’t looking for anything except espresso powder and the quickest exit from the whole scene. I wasn’t trying to get out of a funk or to be reminded of the “True Meaning of Christmas”™. I was just having ordinary doldrums, in a habitual and unexceptional gray blur of getting-through-it…
When out of nowhere, everywhere, Life sparkled.
First, I caught a glimpse of It in my peripheral vision, like a piece of tinsel. Then I met It face-to-face in the aisle at Target, Then I began to participate with It and in It on purpose a little bit, and I found that every single encounter was renewing my faith in our togetherness.
It happened effortlessly, and pretty much instantaneously. I didn’t have to make it or create it or spin it or pray it into something positive. It just was.
There’s a quote from L.R. Knost that I love:
Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.L.R. Knost
All things break. And all things can be mended.
Not with time, as they say, but with intention.
So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.
The broken world waits in the darkness for the light that is you.
This is such good advice. Focus on how to shine my light rather than letting my complaints dim everything down… And it’s wonderful when I can find that within me and deliver it on purpose — my little bit of extra oomph. But it’s also okay when I can’t…
Because what I was reminded on my sorta grumpy shopping day is that the Light already is, or can be, everywhere. In everything and everyone, with the potential to glint off of each other, effortlessly. Sometimes, absolutely, it’s up to me to bring it forth, but that isn’t always the only answer. And it doesn’t have to feel like a ton of hard work. I don’t have to seek it out only in my friends, or in the like-minded members of my tribe, or in exceptional do-gooders. Of course, it’s there. But it’s also right here, hiding in plain sight, in ordinary folks going about their business doing their things. Perfect strangers.
The broken world waits in the darkness for the light that is us. If we allow it. Already.
Thank you for being so brilliant, you twinkling stars.
Merry Christmas, Happy Solstice, Joyful Kwanzaa, and Holy Everything you are honoring and celebrating this week. Christmas Eve candlelight and caroling on Friday at 6:00 pm. Boxing Day Kirtan Sunday at 10:00 am. I can’t wait to be with you. XO, Drew
©2021 Drew Groves