Saturday, June 4, 2011

Fear and Loathing at the Grocery Store

(Note from a Fraidy Cat - Apologies to those of you who have read my blog faithfully from the start. Somehow tonight, with much of the US abuzz re the Casey/Caylee Anthony verdict today, I could not help but think of this post from early June.  I will continue with new posts tomorrow, Lord willing. For tonight, my heart is with all the lost young men and women adrift in our fraidy cat world.  Not the least of which is the young couple I met a few months ago. God bless them today, and God bless you in this fraidy cat time in which we live.)

As soon as I saw them, my heart began to break. Something about the heaviness around them had poked thru my grocery shopping haze and momentarily diverted my attention from preoccupations with coupons and sales. "Not any older than my 20-yearold," I mused, "Such a shame to seem so overwhelmed at this tender age."

They were clean cut. Neatly dressed. They interacted with a quiet intensity, absorbed in their own private and urgent angst. Something about their manner gave me to believe that they were trying to navigate a new and foreign world. The grocery store seemed unfamiliar and the decisions overwhelming. They seemed hesitant about what to buy and what not.  Our paths crossed on several aisles. I grew sadder with each encounter. They never seemed to notice me. "Another couple come to parenthood too soon," I surmised. Another casualty of a world that makes an MTV show about troubled teen mothers a roaring success. I noted the absence of wedding rings.

Eventually our paths diverged. I finished my shopping and headed home.  But for what happened next, I might not remember this couple some 3 months later. As I eased out of my parking spot, relieved to have 2 weeks shopping behind me, a bombardment of what society commonly refers to as F-bombs exploded in my ears. I jammed on the brake horrified to realize that, as I began to back out, someone had stepped squarely into my blind spot.  I began to shake. It wasn't the unrestrained use of profanity directed at me as  much as it was the realization that I had most certainly come close to hitting them that triggered my trembles.

I rolled my window down waiting for my victim to come into view.  The couple emerged from behind the van.  The young man's quiet and somber demeanor had evaporated. He had morphed into a walking case of road rage. He jerked his head around to look over his shoulder. Our eyes locked. I knew him, but he did not register our close encounters while shopping. 

"Young man," I began, "I'm so very sorry. It was not my intention to scare your or me.  You were in a blind spot. Please accept my apology."

He clung to his righteous indignation and barked, "Well...OK then," and continued stalking off all inflated like a Banty hen in a twit. I noticed the girl never looked up. She stood mutely by him and moved when he moved with out looking up at me.  It was as if life had already defeated her, and she had given up hoping for more.

I sat for a moment and collected myself  still shattered and even sadder for the young couple. I cranked my car and began to crawl slowly up the aisle, and there they were. The boy, he wasn't a day over 17 or 18, looked over at me stonily. Still, she didn't look up.  I stopped and rolled my passenger window down. Somehow, our business was unfinished.

"Young man," I began again, "I really do want you to understand how sorry I am. Please accept my apology."

His stare remained stony but his manner more hesitant, "Well...OK then." Still, her gaze perused the pavement. It seemed she wished the ground would swallow her whole.

"May I ask you....did you really think I was intentionally trying to back up over you?"

He was obviously unprepared to face the object of his verbal attack beyond that passing moment of fury and grew a tiny bit more uncertain. The bravado began to crack.  "Ah...I"

"Then, may I ask, if you could conclude that my actions were not purposeful, why was it necessary to curse a total stranger in the foulest of manner and in such a public way? I'm old enough to be your mother. I wonder what she would say had she any idea of your behavior  just now."

He grew less sure of himself and stared -- looking as if he would rather I had taken my cussing and kept on moving. She stood mutely - head still down. After a second he drew himself up a bit and said, "As a matter of fact, I learned to talk like that FROM my mother."

I gasped inwardly hoping his bravado was false.  "Oh my, I'm so sorry. Truly I am.  You deserve so much better than that. If you are being truthful, my heart breaks for you.  I'm so sorry there has been no one in your life to encourage you to live beyond that level. You are old enough now to decide to live above the lowest common denominator. You do not have to accept your past as your destiny. You know, you seemed to me to be such a nice young couple as I watched you in the store. I had taken you for educated and well-spoken young folks just by your demeanor.  Even with the little you have said, I think you are capable of behaving better than you have in the last few minutes. (Yes..that was a stretch, but I had seen so much about them as they shopped.) How sad it is that no one who has witnessed your exchange with me would see you that way."

Words failed him. She sneaked a sideways glance at his face without lifting her chin even a bit.  I turned my attention to her. "Young lady, it is really none of my business, but when your young man chose to treat me in such a reprehensible way for all the public to see, I kinda think he made it my business. You are an attractive young woman. Really pretty. If I had to guess, I'd guess you have done fairly well in school.  I can also guess that if he will treat a total stranger the way he has treated me, his behavior toward you in private is not any better--probably much worse." Her head snapped up as much as she dared and again she looked at him from lowered lashes. It seemed she was certain my words had hit a mark which he knew to be unvarnished truth.

"My advice to you is this: Run, don't walk from this young man today.  Run, and don't look back even once. You deserve better.  Unless he decides to raise his game, your life is not going to get any easier. Get out today. Make your way in life to a happier, healthier place. You deserve that. Don't accept this reality as your life. Go finish your education, and make something great of yourself."  Her face changed just enough for me to know my words had hit their mark to some degree.  Her back did not straighten, but her chin lifted notably for the 1st time.  Their eyes met. I think he saw something like resolve flitter across her face. It made him nervous.

"I hope you will remember our encounter today. I hope today will be a turning point for both of you. You may forget me, but I will remember you.  My prayers for you will be that you both find peace and direction in your young lives.  I wish you the best. Have a good day." And I drove off leaving them to stand and stare after me in wordless amazement.

As I drove away, I heard the words of another mother of a much younger pre-teen echo from out of the recent past.  "I don't like to get involved in the affairs of my children."  Her words had riveted me that day. They reverberated in my soul as I drove away from that troubled young couple. In a world where the mother of a 12 YO will proudly declare that she does not get involved in the affairs of her son, a gaping void is waiting to be filled. Was the young man at the grocery store the product of such a void? Or, was he simply an arrogant, entitled young man who had never been taught to restrain himself, defer to others, and forbear in a show of maturity and valor. My heart had rightfully broken for him and remains so.

I thought of that young couple today as I dug in the dirt of a garden I am trying to rehab.  Not long after our encounter, I had purchased 2 bags of Caladiums.  They sat on my back step waiting for my attention. For weeks they sat dormant waiting on me to put them in the ground. I even wondered if they would rot before I got to them.  A few days ago, I was stunned to see that the shoots had emerged. They had begun to grow right in the bags in which they were packaged. Despite my benign neglect, the plants did what God designed them to do. How lucky I was that my plants had emerged healthy and beautiful despite me.

We live in a fearsome world.  A world that drives us from one endless preoccupation to another. A world where too many children are left to their own devices to make their way and find their purpose. Many even seem suspicious if an adult takes more than a passing interest in them. Ours is a world where truth is relative. Right and wrong are open to interpretation.There may or may not be a God who designed them with a creative and wonderful potential to fulfill depending upon who you ask.

If only the world would allow those children to flourish and thrive despite our benign neglect. One only has to watch reality TV for seconds at a time to know that they are increasingly without a compass. Children are not plants.  The weeds of this fraidy cat world are choking them to death.  Root rot of the soul is not far behind.

Deuteronomy 11: 18-21
So commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these words of mine [God]. Tie them to your hands, and wear them on your forehead as reminders. 19Teach them to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. 20Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21so that as long as the sky remains above the earth, you and your children may flourish.... (NLT)


  1. There are times when the Spirit over-rides the Fraidy Cat. Well said CA - I would imagine they still remember your words.

  2. WOW! That was definitely not fraidy-cat like :) *hugs* Oh, I pray your words took root for both of them. What courage!

  3. You know...there are days when I shudder in relief at the thought that the kid did not whip out a gun and shoot me on the spot. I don't know what came over me. I sure hope they remember me as well as I remember them...just not what I look like, lol!