January 15, 2014

Sanctifying the Ordinary: The Grocery Store. ~ Heather Grimes

I recently read the following quote for the 90-somethingish time:

How you do anything is how you do everything.

You know how it goes. You hear the same saying again and again and then, one day, it germinates. This particular phrase is zen in nature, and the name of Zen teacher Cheri Huber‘s book, but I have no idea where it originated.

Regardless, I was struck by these words on this very ordinary morning of life.

I took to heart this notion of creating sacred moments from the ones that are already there. The errands, the to-do’s, the preparations for the bits of life that ‘really matter,’ that are so often viewed as a means to an end. Or worse, invisible.

But the idea of forcing sanctity onto any moment—be it a trip to Target or an hour to meditate in the Notre Dame—inspires rebellion in me because I don’t ever want to be told what to do.

So instead, my definition of sacred today is to notice. I can do that.

I can’t think of another time ever when we all went grocery shopping together as a family. Until today, that would have been viewed as a colossal waste of time, like when both of us are up with Opal during the night—it makes much more sense for at least one of us to get some sleep.

We sang along in the car to the soundtrack of Inside Llewyn Davis Track #4, in particular: Five Hundred Miles. We harmonized as only a family of non-musicians can (in an obnoxious, competitive manner). We played air guitars and mind-flutes (Jesse’s offering) during the instrumental parts. We were a temporary, multi-generational garage band on wheels.

Not a shirt on my back, not a penny to my name.

No, I can’t go back home, this old way…

We passed one of my favorite trailheads in Lafayette, just off the main drag but virtually unseen in the thick of cottonwoods, like a child ducking away in her teacher’s flowing skirt. The entrance was blocked off with three beaten-up orange cones due to the damage done by the floods in September. Nearly four months have passed; it’s renovation must not be high on the list of city’s priorities. This sweet little trailhead is a bite-of-nature just down the street from the grocery where we shop. It is essentially a ticket to the quick insertion of space—green, shady, air like wet skin—en route to a necessary and frequent errand. But, like a smoker who quit and no longer has a reason to take the breaks, I have not yet found another way to take a breather of nature before I choose what cereal to buy.

The three of us waltzed into Vitamin Cottage like college girls entering a bar. Like we owned the place. (Vitamin Cottage is a misnomer; really it’s a lovely organic market that also stocks vitamins.)

This is our spot, this is where we come for food most weeks. By now, I know where most everything is located (even obscurities like creole seasoning or gluten-free falafel mix) and I know many of the staff by first-name. There are other places that are closer, perhaps more convenient and just as affordable, but I am committed. I have no desire to start from scratch in learning the new territory.

But it was endearing to see Jesse lost in this very way. He shops at Alfalfa’s, which is right by his work. Or Whole Foods, which is right off the freeway. But Vitamin Cottage? He was out of his comfort zone. A rookie.

“Give us a mission!” He said.

“Ok,” I said and consulted the list. “Paper towels and maple syrup. And soy sauce.”

“You got it!” He said, and headed in the exact opposite direction of where any of those items were located, Opal-in-hand.

There was a dad staring at the row of chocolate as I passed by, saying, “Should we get some chocolate..?” to his very-young son in the cart.

“Definitely,” I said. I reached in for two bars of choco-love peppermint and one extra-super-bitter dark. “These are my favorite. I don’t go a day without chocolate.”

He gave me a look as if to calculate whether or not I was hitting on him. Then he smiled and said, “Thanks for the encouragement. I’ll get this one. My wife loves this one.” And he grabbed a bar of choco-love raspberry. Then he said to his son, “Should we get this for mommy?”

The son stared at him blankly.

I remembered a time when I would have wanted this guy to find me attractive. There was at least a decade of my adult life where my focus hinged on being interesting to members of the opposite sex, even if I wasn’t interested in them. It was sport. And exhausting.

I took stock of my attire in a flash. It was the same outfit I’d worn for three days (careful not to see the same people for three days in a row, mind you, except Opal and Jesse) which consisted of elastic-wasted brown pants, a striped shirt, an old-lady cardigan. The shirt had been wiped clean of oatmeal twice. The braid in my hair was blown apart and straggly by the wind. I had on only Chapstick.

At that point, Opal came running around the corner and barrelled into me with a squeal, Jesse close behind. I turned my attention to them. “Good job, guys! Now…butter!”

I could see the man recalculating his assessment as I walked away.

I had a question about dry red beans for one of the staff and the first person I could find was a man I’d never seen there before today. I saw him when we first arrived and he was quite a spectacle for the eye: black mohawk, earholes plugged with what appeared to be black coat buttons, inky tattoos that were showcased perfectly by his choice of clothing. From afar, I thought he was young, 20-something. But up close I saw that he was middle-aged, dare I say older than me?

I couldn’t help but to consider what this man was like in his teens and 20s. Perhaps he was a late-bloomer, summonsed to a lifetime of uniformed catholic school clothes, acquiring ear-plugs and a collection of mediocre tattoos immediately upon his dismissal. He didn’t have on a wedding ring but that certainly didn’t mean he wasn’t a father.

Was was it with me? The first thing I think when I meet a man these days is, “I wonder if he’s a father?”

This man and his unusual outward appearance made me think of a dear friend I had in high school named Joel. While we were all cycling through identities and using our clothing to express our individuality, he dressed in pressed slacks, a button-up shirt-and-tie, and patent leather dress shoes with tassels. Year after year, Joel was the only one who really succeeded in being alternative.

“Look honey!” Jesse hollered at me from the other end of the aisle. “Bacon-cranberry power bars! Should we get one?” Love that man.

I had just about completed the list. It is strangely satisfying to cross things off, to put a line through the words like small battles conquered.

Backtrack: forgot the avocados.

I dashed to produce and ran into a woman I used to know. Charlotte was her name, a very nice, quiet woman, who I met at the Boulder Community Breastfeeding club when our babies were both still in their fourth trimesters. She was pushing a cart with a little guy in the seat that didn’t appear to be more than two. In an instant I thought, eek, did something happen to her son to make him stop growing?

In the next instant I realized, duh, no, she had another kid.

“This is Murray,” she said.

He was cute and smiley, and I was pleased for her. But I couldn’t help but to add her to my mental tally of how many parents had lapped us in getting pregnant with their second child before we did. So many of Opal’s friends have younger siblings now. Most of them, as a matter of fact.

I can’t tell you how often someone will say to me, “Are you going to have another child?”

And I recite my well-versed, well-practiced line: We’d like to, but we’ll see what mother nature has in store.

I get so tired of saying that.

“Mama!” Opal careened into me again, making a sharp curve from the cracker aisle, Jesse close behind.

“We’re done, guys. Let’s get on out of here.”

The way home was an exact opposite-replay of the way there. Same scenic drive, but facing due-west, so the mountains were in full effect and the sun blasted through the windshield like an interrogation bulb.

“Hey guys!” Opal yelled. “If I see a well, I’ll make sure to tell you, ok?”

“That would be great,” we both said some version of.

We knew she was referring to the time when Jesse showed her a picture from the paper of a horse that had fallen into a well. He wasn’t hurt, and was rescued quickly. But the story was branded into the soft flesh of Opal’s little brain. Questions and statements about the well, horses, and the orientation of wells-and-horses, came up often and without warning.

“I think of a well as a great big bath tub,” she said.  “With bubbles!”

We knew what she meant, understood the code as only parents do. The well-story didn’t scare her so much anymore.

“A bubble bath sounds marvelous right now,” I said and leaned over to turn up our song.

If you miss the train I’m on, you will know that I am gone. You can hear the whistle blow

a hundred miles. 




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