I called mom the other morning as I was walking into the store. I’ve asked her to stay home as much as possible, and am grateful she’s abiding by that, especially when I hear so many other of her generation aren’t. She asked for bread, bananas, and a bag of frozen hash browns.
We’ve all had this experience by now: weaving our carts around pallets near pock-marked grocery shelves in the process of being restocked almost as quickly they’re emptied. The people doing the stocking looking as though they’ve been there all night, shoppers taking a wide a berth around each other in aisles that are suddenly uncomfortably narrow.
The first items on her list were readily available (well, the bread selection was a little limited, but the produce aisle looked any other day), but the frozen food section these days is grocery’s weird, gap-toothed second cousin. Potatoes are the missing lateral incisors, victims of a rowdy high school brawl no one had the funds or care to replace.
I had a moment, right there in frozen foods at eight in the morning. You know, one of those this-is-so-not-okay moments, and I may have hyperventilated a little next to the Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches and Eggo waffles.
We’ve all been having those moments. I don’t think I’m special. They probably happen less often for me than for most, as comfortable as we are with telecommuting, with stable paychecks and no kids around to tell us how bored they are. For the most part, I can focus on the tasks at hand, swinging between bouts of near panic when I read the news and think about the state of the world today, to serenity when I take time for a long walk in the sunshine, or get a message from a friend asking about our family.
Then there are moments, like the one in the frozen food aisle of the grocery store, where I’m absorbed with “what kind of monster makes off with all the hash browns for God’s sake” thoughts.
The thing is, this situation is new, but the feeling is not unfamiliar, not really. It’s a visceral response to a new experience. It’s a feeling I normally tell myself I relish: the sense that everything is upside down and nothing is familiar and anything could happen. It’s the same sense I get when stepping off a plane into a place where the air smells different and the sounds are unfamiliar and the signs are printed in a language I can’t read.
We were in Mexico for a conference (was it just a month ago now? It feels like eons), with a little bit of time to find a place to eat before the sun set. I remember thinking “these cobblestones hurt my ankles, this table is dirty, this neighborhood looks seedy, what if I get mugged? Lost? Swindled? How much does this cost in dollars? How much should I tip?”
It was at that moment, the one on a street corner in an unfamiliar town, that I remembered something. I remembered one of the things I most love about travel is that sense I get, right off the bat, that all the rules are different in this moment, and I don’t recognize the landscape, and the air is weirdly muggy, and forget about knowing what street I should be on, I don’t even know where they put the street signs.
I realized the other morning, standing in the grocery store aisle, that this was the same feeling, one in which I usually take delight. At least that’s what I have told myself dozens of times before. The difference is how I deal with it, that’s where the adventure lies. Whether I succumb to the feeling that this is going to be terrible and scary and what the Hell am I doing, putting myself so squarely in harm’s way? Or remember that I’m a good problem solver, and that panic is unhelpful, and that while I don’t know how this is going to turn out, everything normally does for me, and the people I love.
There was the time in Guatemala when Colin was sick and I thought no problem, I’ll just stock up on groceries and we’ll stay in. I was sure I could navigate my way around town with my limited Spanish.
But then all the signs were not in Spanish, but in Kaqchikel, which is my best guess as to what the clerks and all the other patrons were speaking and the out-of-place sense it caused was as unsettling as it was exhilarating. I got through that, albeit with only an overpriced pint of milk and a bunch of plantains to show for it. I did.
There was the time we were in Seoul and realized our Airbnb was in a completely English-language-free neighborhood, and our distinctly western-looking family stood out like a sore thumb. We chose restaurants by looking at the pictures posted on sandwich boards and ordered food by gesturing at what other patrons were eating. That felt like an accomplishment. One that featured more fried chicken than we were used to, but an accomplishment nevertheless.
Adventure isn’t synonymous with comfort. That’s what we’ve told our kids forever. That’s what we tell our students bound for a year abroad in another country. Sometimes adventure means taking the risk that you’ll be laughed at for your poor pronunciation. Sometimes adventure means you’ll sleep through a boarding announcement for your connecting flight. If you’re Indiana Jones, adventure may be eyeball soup or snakes on a plane. Adventure isn’t necessarily good, but it’s always interesting, and the best coping measure has to do with mindset.
It appears these days that adventure sometimes means coping with a new grocery landscape. I’d rather deal with that than snakes, frankly.
For some, adventure means coping with much more: loss of work, insecurity, illness. Some of us will respond differently than others. Some will insist on carrying on as though nothing has changed. Some will panic and hoard. Some will wag their fingers at everyone else and what they see as a hysteria based upon rumor and inuendo. Some will, inexplicably, resort to all of these actions at once.
We can’t control everything, but what most of us can control is how we respond to what’s happening around us. Just as with all adventurous experiences, if we’re successful, we’ll mitigate the damage, and may even come out the other side with a greater sense of our own selves, our purpose, with stronger sense of the world around us, and relationships with the ones we love.
And maybe with some interesting stories to tell, to boot.
With that in mind, here’s my own plan:
I will attend to what’s happening, rather than ruminating on what could be, keeping my mind clear through exercise, meditation, and regular breaks from social media.
I’ll stay rested, hydrated, healthy, and sober (for the most part), so I can keep doing so.
I’ll expect mistakes to happen. Some might be my fault. When they are, I’ll own them, ask forgiveness, and take the time to reflect on how I can keep them from happening again.
When others make mistakes, I’ll offer grace and forgiveness to the best of my ability. We’re all trying to muddle through this.
I’ll remind myself that while I have my own list of problems, things might be exponentially harder right now for others, and maybe the comfort and privilege I have is something I can extend to them in the form of a favor or an encouraging word.
I’ll be grateful for what we do have, for the spring sun, the emerging flowers, for my neighbors who wave hello from across the street, and the hope that all represents, and yes, grateful for adventure.
So what if some monster made off with all of the hash browns? There’s still rice pilaf the next aisle over, there’s instant mashed potatoes, there’s cous cous. Heck we live in the potato state. That produce section isn’t just for the vegans among us.
I know we’ll get through this. We’ll scope out the alternatives. We’ll realize the value of being kind and patient with each other and with ourselves.
And we will be better for it.