Peace in the Grocery Store

Ever since I became an “adult,” grocery shopping has been the ultimate chore.  It overwhelms me when the store is crowded.  I get angry when I forget my glasses and can’t read the aisle markers.  The overload of stimuli and options makes me get all huffy and puffy about American consumerist culture (“What if all we had was the farm!” I cry).  And why is there only one grocery store chain in our city?  The only thing I dislike more than too many options is zero options.

I have several bones to pick with the grown-up institution of weekly grocery shopping.  I will admit I’ve even looked up the possibility of buying my groceries online.  Seriously.  You can do that now.

But I am perfectly capable of going to the store myself and toting my groceries back home again.  My soul could probably do without the people-free (and expensive) online shopping, where I can’t see and touch the food we’ll eat and I can forget that when I shop together with others I’m participating in a strange, albeit commercialized communion.  Most communions are good (unless you’re in a Hawthorne short story—then they include the Devil).  I am an introvert (INFJ), but it’s not always good for me to cater everything about my daily happenings to that classification.  I should go to the grocery store like everyone else.  It’s good for me.

So I go during the “introverts’ hour,” the swatch of time before the workday begins on the workiest of all workdays: Monday mornings.

On this particular morning, I back out of my driveway dodging uniformed kids walking to our neighborhood school.  It’s the first day back for them, too.  They look depressed and terrified, although most of them are trying very hard to cover it up with their swagger.  Twenty-five percent of the backpacks I see have Spiderman on them.

"St. Martins" by photographer Walter Evans, 1974.  Image public domain through J. Paul Getty Museum.

“St. Martins” by photographer Walter Evans, 1974. Image public domain through J. Paul Getty Museum.

At the grocery store, I see calm mamas who look like they just dropped off their kiddos at school.  They usually have one tiny still with them, sleepily riding in the cart.  This morning, I can’t get over how peaceful those mamas look…

All the produce is so freshly laid out that I feel guilty messing up the display.  No one looks at me funny when I load up a giant plastic bag with seven broccoli heads.  (We really like broccoli at our house.)  No one comments when I take five large green bottles of sparkling water.

My favorite Monday morning group is the “club” of senior men, crouched over the coffee counter next to the deli.  I used to think that they were all friends, all there together by appointment.  But today I realize that they are actually unrelated small groups—this is a gathering place for more than just one “club.”  They drink their grocery store coffee (“Café Ole”) and the deli worker lingers by the counter, enjoying their early morning company.  I think they know her by name.

After several years of hating the grocery store, I’m starting to require it as a ritual I can’t maintain peace without.  Other people talk about this: “The grocery store is my ‘me time.’”  That makes sense, but I’m not sure that’s how I would categorize it for myself.  I get plenty of “me time” in my quiet little office overlooking our tiny street.  I find “me time” even at work when I go off to my secret place on campus (I’ll never tell).

The grocery store has become “others’ time.”  I smile at people.  I say hello.  I comment on the excellent nut butter selection to a stocker.  I ask advice about what to do with buffalo meat.  I stop in the middle of the dairy aisle to open up cartons of eggs and check for cracks and someone passing by says, “Everyone should do that.”

And I think, yes, everyone should check for cracks.