Today, I was at the local grocery shop checkout. It’s at the back of the store and is used by people who park in the adjacent rear carpark, beyond the wonky automatic door.
I was feeling a bit shit, to be honest, after the loss of another close family member this week. I had a bottle of Ribena, a small container of freshly squeezed orange juice and a four-pack of Limonata on the counter.
I was the only person waiting and there was nobody manning the till. A little floral-decorated bell sits beside the register. You are allowed to ding it if nobody is serving. I dinged it gently, and behind me I could hear the shop ladies chatting happily about something. I’d passed them a few minutes before and they were standing at the end of the aisle the flour is kept in. They kept chatting, so I looked at the colourful packaging of the stacks of eggs beside the counter for a while, then at the coffee percolators and various associated spare parts that line the shelves behind the register.
A minute or so later I dinged again and the woman in the adjacent deli section called out urgently “The bell! The bell, girls!”
I didn’t care a bit. I was okay to wait. Fine to be served when the time was right for them. Entrenched in my own world of thinking about and trying to not think about things. No point getting shirty or making a fuss over a short wait to pay for a few things, was my view. Life is rough enough, without dragging other people into an impatient or grumpy exchange, don’t you think?
It made me realise that when hard times happen, the thing that feels most right to me is to edge slowly about, not making any sudden moves, not doing too much, keeping things in the moment as much as possible. It feels like a sensible way to reduce exposure to further risky or difficult things, and life slows to a sort of sludgy pace, punctuated by happenings that seep in from elsewhere, happenings that you try to respond to without making too many waves.
But the problem with this is that all the days begin to clump together in a sort of muddy sludginess that feels like existence, rather than life. Things being ‘not worse’ becomes the priority.
It becomes more and more difficult to remember to look for those little moments of goodness, to make hopeful plans, to prioritise loveliness, to surprise yourself, to step out of the sludge.
When the ladies came to the till a minute or so later they were (unnecessarily sheepish, but also happy).
“I just love my dog!” Shop Woman One said, smiling at me.
“He’s beautiful!” Shop Woman Two said.
I realised they had been looking at photos of the dog on Shop Woman One’s phone and their end-of-aisle conference was about … a beloved pet.
As I left with my groceries, shuffling through the wonky door, I could hear Shop Woman One changing up the discussion, expanding it to funny dog videos she’d watched online. It was lovely to hear them both giggling as I disappeared into the carpark. I immediately missed my own pups dreadfully and hurried home to them.
It’s a reminder isn’t it? A reminder to find some balance between the sludge and the sparkle. A reminder to peek out of the (often unavoidably) muddy bits when and if you can. A reminder that there are beautiful bits tucked all around us, just waiting to be welcomed into each day, if we only take the time to notice them.
your pal, Pip