Fear and loathing in the Kroger parking lot

It’s the Kroger checkout aisle. The woman in front of me has tried three different credit cards so far, and none of them have gone through.

A few aisles away, a baby cries until her mom places an iPad in front of her, and she descends lazily into the virtual world, where she will presumably live most of her life.

I’m inspecting the quality of everything in my cart, seeing if there’s anything I could negotiate a discount for while rethinking that bottle of kombucha I grabbed. Do I really need it?

The woman bagging my groceries appears to be old enough to have comfortably retired by now, but instead she’s trying to lift my 12-pack of toilet paper into my cart until I stop her and tell her I can handle it.

Maybe I had been too wrapped up in my own head to really take stock of the sincere moment of connection at the grocery store entrance. It was just a brief blur of humanity in an increasingly disconnected world.

When she tells me the total, she gives me a sympathetic look, saying, “It adds up fast now, huh?”

I give her a weak chuckle.

“Yeah, sure does.”

Neither of us say, “Thanks, Biden,” but somehow we both know we’re thinking it, and our smiles widen just a bit.

In the parking lot, there’s a man on speaker phone with somebody he’s very angry with. He’s shouting profanities into the phone and dropping N-words like he’s J. Cole. I know he sees me loading my groceries into the back of my Kia Soul right next to him; we made eye contact when he yelled into his iPhone about being disrespected.

It’s one of the most beautiful Texas afternoons I have seen in a long time. There is not one, I mean literally not a single cloud, in the sky. The air has maintained the lingering crispness of colder temperatures as the sun melts winter away.

Somebody cuts me off on my way out of the parking lot, and I realize I can’t blame Biden for that.

I used to think that the universal test of humanity was whether or not you put your shopping cart back in its designated parking spot. The bar is significantly lower now. The new test is if you can handle grocery shopping without cussing somebody out.

But I’m not angry because I’m still thinking about the old man I passed at the Kroger entrance wearing a hat that I believe said he was a veteran from the Korean War. He had stopped the young man whose job it was to pick up the carts that were scattered haphazardly around the parking lot and return them to the store. The old man shook the young man’s hand and said something that sounded like, “you’re doing good work.”

I thought maybe he knew the young man. I have a neighbor who works at Kroger. Maybe these men were neighbors too. It’s not a big town.

Or maybe he didn’t know him. Maybe I had misinterpreted the whole scene in my usual distracted rush to get my groceries without collapsing into despair about the price of garlic. Maybe I had been too wrapped up in my own head to really take stock of the sincere moment of connection at the grocery store entrance. It was just a brief blur of humanity in an increasingly disconnected world.

I had a moment watching the woman fumbling to find a card that wouldn’t be declined when I thought, maybe I should offer to pay. Her card went through before I acted, but I could only trace the impulse back to that old man at the front entrance.

He was kind to someone at the grocery store. Maybe I could be too.

I realized while driving the uncrowded main street back home that humanity is equally as contagious as inhumanity but significantly less engaging. I couldn’t help but remember the details of the man yelling into his phone, but the random act of sincerity by the old man — that went almost unregistered by me.

Headlines today are plastered with the end of the world.

“He killed her.” “They hate them.”

Rarely is there an article about the old man who shook the young man’s hand on a Sunday afternoon at the local grocery. Or the neighbors who finally escalated their friendship from an occasional “hello” to the planning of a game night. The graduate of AA being baptized at church, or the parents who worked it out instead of splitting up. The countless stories of people who had every excuse to despair, to lash out, but didn’t.

We don’t read those stories, but we do live them.

I’m pulling into my driveway, where my husband is waiting to help me unload. We go on a short walk around the neighborhood and notice everyone who has painted their door or is having a cookout.

The sun is setting in that kind of endless-sky way Texans brag about when we get a call from a relative asking how we are.

We’re doing very well.

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