We were out of milk this morning (I began this one yesterday, so Saturday) and the grocery store is a straight 1.1 miles away from our little abode, so I got the crazy idea to combine shopping with my morning exercise. I looped my two earth-friendly grocery bags through each arm, one green and one cardboard-brown, snapped on my shuffle, and began my strut toward victory. I looked like a haughty lady going to lunch-- swiveling my hips this way and that while making sure that both arms were at a 90 degree angle and my designer bags dangled in the perfect nook of my elbow joint. I was wearing my workout gear, but the mismatched bags, greasy hair, and squinty, determined eyes probably made me look just a notch better than my earlier "Homeless Harriet" digs. I am all for recycling--we had to memorize a song in first grade called "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle." Thanks to my Great-Lakes-Wildlife-loving elementary school teachers, I was taught to be "Green" long before Leo Dicaprio owned a hybrid, and throwing eggshells and rotting food in your back yard was "Hip." However, I really struggle with the whole reusable bag thing. On a normal shopping day I have to drag my toddler out of the car and be certain she doesn't break her head while doing acrobatics in the grocery cart--how can I keep track of bags? Today I didn't have a cart of course (I had to be able to CARRY these things home) so I just walked around with the bags in my right hand, and a small handle-basket in my left--So no one would think I was stealing or being sneaky. Do you have to flatten the bags until you get into the checkout line?
I filled the basket with two half gallons of milk, four cartons of blueberries (my husband and child are OBSESSED with the blue gems), two cartons of strawberries, Bryers vanilla ice cream, whipped cream (the big can), angel food cake, a cooking magazine, and a bundle of asparagus. I asked the bag boy to try to make them as even as possible, "Because, ehem, I was WALKING home." He looked at me as if to say "Dozens of people walk home from here every single day, what makes YOU so special?" I guess the journey home was getting to my head. At first I held the bags in each hand swaying just inches from the pavement, that was too hard, and I couldn't go very fast, so I hoisted the bags over each shoulder being careful to face the ice cream AWAY from morning sun hitting my back. But the strain on my shoulders was too much, so with the straps still on each shoulder, I swooped my arms around each bag to have a little more support on the bottom and sides. I looked like someone imitating a large ape.
Two-hundred yards away from the grocery store was a familiar face sitting in the shade of a bus-stop right beside the large Veterans Hospital. I have passed him many times but usually with my toddler in a stroller. "Bum." I thought to myself as I had all those times before. He has a grand white beard that could pass for Merlin, or What's-His-Face from Lord of the Rings, Gandalf? A worn camping pack and sport bag screamed "I'm Homeless." As I walked passed him this time, something told me to turn around. "What am I supposed to say? What do I have to offer him?" I asked myself. "You have strawberries. Uh, strawberries? No, that's silly." But my gut was telling me that no matter how strange, I needed to turn around and offer the man a package of strawberries. I flipped around and approached the white-bearded man. "Hello Sir," I said politely, "Hello, good morning," he replied. I stammered, "Uh, would you like a package of strawberries?" He gave me a twisted-nose glance in questioning. "It's looking to be a hot day, and I just got them from the grocery store, I thought they might be nice to eat," I explained feeling very awkward. He paused a moment, and looked up at me with a hand shading the sun from his eyes. He checked my eyes as if to say, you are really serious, aren't you? "Yeah, sure, I'll take some strawberries." I was relieved and fished out the package from the green bag and asked him if he was a veteran. He said yes; he served in the Army state-side during Viet Nam. "My dad was in Cape Canaveral during Viet Nam with the Navy," I offered. His face lit up, "Oh great," he said. He looked away and seemed at a loss for words. "Well, anyway, I hope you enjoy those strawberries, and thanks for your service," I said. We waved goodbye, and I walked home feeling very humbled.
I do not tell this story to be vain or to portray myself as an AMAzing person, rather, it is to illustrate the opposite. So often I have judged this man assuming he was a crazy vagabond with his life in the ditch--literally. I am glad that this time I actually listened to my better-self. I have joked a lot about how people see me as I exercise and go about my life. I may appear as a let-herself-go-slob to many, but those who take the time to talk to me understand that I am a mother, and a wife, and a person--just trying to do my best. If I had passed this man again I would have put him back into the "Bum" folder of my mind. But we are quite the same: people, judged, with stories, and trying to make the best with what we've got.