12 May 2012

Shopping for Joy

The last couple of weeks have been a little overwhelming, which is pretty typical for the end of the school year, but these have been more so than most. The stress of preparing final exams and projects, worrying if certain students will pull out the stops to earn their credit, and getting my own daughters geared up for the last big push before summer break all take a lot of energy. It always seems that many tasks that seem less urgent are pushed aside, piled like laundry, awaiting the less-scheduled days of summer. And so the house is a mess, the plants look rather thirsty, and the stress levels keep rising. The things I really want to do, like read and plant my garden, are at the very bottom of a very long list.
And then, if there were anything to make the petty worries of life seem even more trivial, it’s the preventable, accidental death of a student at my school. This certainly gave me pause, making me hug my own children more fiercely, and reminding me to tell them I love them always. But still, even though the big picture has been brought into acute focus, the other tensions are still there. And I still struggle with how to juggle what needs doing, but now with a sense of urgency and loss that isn’t quite palpable, but somehow ever-present.
This morning I was at the grocery store picking up a few things for lunch after a tough yoga class – tough because it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to go – but I made it a priority today. In line in front of me was a very ancient-looking couple. They were so old that they seemed tiny – shrunken, almost, and fragile and frail in a way that made me wonder what they were doing out here in the world. And yet, of course, they were doing the same thing I was, picking up groceries. I thought of how there are no guarantees in life, even for this couple who seemed to have weathered more than most. Really, I thought, for this couple, there are probably no more guarantees at all.
The cashier wished the elderly wife a happy Mother’s Day, but instead of the response I expected, her husband deadpanned, “Every day is Mother’s Day at our house.”
“He’s lying,” the wife said, without a moment’s hesitation. But a huge grin lit up her wrinkled face as she said it.
The husband shook his head. “We’ve been married sixty-five years,” he said, still shaking his head, and he joked with the cashier as he bagged their groceries. The laughter carried on until they waved goodbye and shuffled toward the door, leaning on the cart and each other for support.
I found myself smiling in spite of my tense, tired limbs and the to-do list that had been racing across my mind all morning, like ticker tape. Glancing behind me, I saw that everyone else in line was smiling, too. What a gift, I thought, to have found myself in this checkout line, on this morning, behind this couple. What sense of perspective to gain, to remember deeply, that the steady march of time will resolve most of what I worried about today. What will remain is love. What will support each of us throughout the decades is that sense of connection with others. And with any luck, a sense of humor. Placing my items on the conveyor belt, I noted that among them was joy.

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