The other day I was shopping at Costco to kill time while new tires were being put on my car. It was after work around 6:30 and I was starting to get a little peckish, not a good time to be shopping but… what do you do? As I wandered around Costco I found many of the things: basics that are always on the shopping list, items that I have seen before but never grabbed, things that I added for work/social event, and the “bright shiny light” purchases that I never even knew I needed. You know the ones I mean…. Sometimes these things just seem to jump right into your cart and then you get home with what seems like a lifetime supply of an item you’re not even sure you will like.
Well, this particular night was a bit different. I was trying to limit my purchases since I had just spent a boatload on new tires, a necessary evil. I had my basics, T.P., popcorn, greens for smoothies, Coconut Clusters, green beans for my dogs, canned coconut milk, some Christmas gifts (already available in September!!!), some pepper for our staff room -we’d been out for days and I love pepper- and a random smattering of a few more necessary/unnecessary things. I tossed in a pre-made spinach salad the size of Texas but for the same price as a Starbucks latte. (Buyers note: I ate off this salad for a whole week until it was no longer good and I had to pitch the rest, could easily be dinner for a family of six.) I knew I needed dinner and this seemed the most economical, convenient, and somewhat healthy option at the time. Since I don’t really care for the gelatin-like poppyseed dressing that comes with the salad I looked to my cart to substitute for the provided dressings’ role. Aha! I found the “bright shiny light” avocado mayo that I just had to try, plus the aforementioned pepper and a vat-sized balsamic vinegar…I could definitely MacGuyver a dressing from these ingredients and it had to be better than the poppyseed goop, right? I popped over to the food counter and asked for a plate and fork so that I could eat my salad in the exclusive Costco dining area, tres chic. (I do find it hilarious that in a warehouse of oversized items the fork you get from the food services might be the tiniest, wimpiest plastic fork I have ever seen…? Just saying, it is ironic.) I parked my gargantuan shopping cart in the corner at the farthest side of the dining zone, sandwiching it between the table and the display of air conditioners, you know the spot I mean every Costco is the same, right?
Here, I would to be able to solitarily mix my salad like a mad scientist without really getting noticed or so I’d hoped. I opened the salad and began to pile the spinach, avocado, bacon bits, egg and tomato on my plate with said tiny fork. Nevertheless, determined to make this salad dressing work I began to dig into the jar of avocado mayo. I carefully eyed my neighbors and made sure no one was watching. I got a big glop out and then as I was transferring it to the plate it dropped on the large plastic salad lid. Miracle of miracles that made me realize that I should in fact toss the salad there, a much bigger salad-tossing-surface. I proceeded to dump the plate of lettuce et al on the lid, crack the pepper over the top and pour some balsamic in for just the right tang. Mixing this mess up wasn’t pretty but I hoped that it would do the trick. I took my first bite of spinach, which by the way was whole leaves of spinach so I had to fold the pieces into my mouth very caveman-like and with my wee plastic fork. I thought to myself (with a grin and probably some spinach poking out of my mouth), “Not bad for a Costco-scientific-dinner-experiment”. At least the store was pretty empty at almost 7pm.
It is then, as I went in for my next bite that I heard my name… “Sarah”… that couldn’t be for me but I heard it again, “Sarah”…. I looked up and there were two of my co-workers smiling and waving and walking over to my table. The reveling in the success of my culinary-genius-Costco-ninja-style-chef-creativity suddenly felt very exposed and to be honest a little bit crazy… okay a lot crazy! I was caught, in fact not alone. The couple are teachers at my school and were on a date when they decided to pick up a few items for school, they said. They had left their cart far enough away that I could not could not see what they bought, but my cart, just sat there exposed, open, filled with all my purchases that begged me to take them home… in secret. Add that to my mad-scientist dinner show that was all over the table in stages of deconstruction and a very odd feeling of embarrassment and shame swept over me.
I was suddenly self conscious of all my purchases, like somehow they defined me. And my science fair dinner project didn’t help support my sanity… good ole’ insecurities started to bubble up to the surface. The judgements of yesteryears, of events from throughout my life, started to come up. The kicker is I am friends with these two people, I have know them for years and I work with them everyday so nothing in my cart should feel embarrassing or odd for them to see. It wasn’t like I was running into them at some seedy underbelly of society. But for some very odd reason I felt a sense of unease and felt very naked, exposed.
We chatted about the size of the salad in front of me and the congealed dressing that accompanies it. I told them about my alternative dressing and that I had made it out of ingredients from the cart. This gave way to a discussion on the merits of what makes a fine mayo. My friend is a staunch Best Foods man, he had tried the avocado mayo but it was a hard pass for him. (I have to admit I agree with him about this, although it’s not bad as a mixture in a salad dressing). We giggled about the massive pepper grinder I had in my cart as he too had just purchased pepper for our staff room the night prior. Then we said our goodbyes and that we would see one another in the morning. A deep sense of relief washed over me.
After they left I wondered why this encounter was bothering me so? Why did this meeting with people I knew well, affect me so much? Why would past-life insecurities come up so quickly in this moment? I felt like I had shared way more with them that just a quick chat. What about them seeing into my shopping cart and my crazy dinner show left me feeling so vulnerable? I had to sit for another hour, contemplating this, before my car was ready when it hit me; looking into someone’s shopping cart is like looking into their world, taking a peek into the current status of their life, their ups and downs and their state of affairs. And this encounter was with no ordinary shopping cart, this was a Costco shopping cart which for some reason often brings forward the whims and snap purchases that later can bring buyers remorse and possible shame. But WHY?
Why shame? Nothing in the cart was hurtful or evil. Nothing was an embarrassing or out of character… so why did I feel this way? The next day I went to school thinking about this encounter and I talked to my co-worker. I explained that last night was not my ordinary shopping trip, that it was a wasting-time-trying-not-to-buy-too-much shopping trip. She quickly responded by saying, “Oh, I know you should have seen what was in our cart. All those snacks were not for us. It was all for the kids at the school. We don’t usually buy snacks like that. In fact, we are going to be doing Whole 30 again soon and we can’t eat any of the stuff we had in our cart.” The funny thing was I had NOT even seen their cart. I had no idea what they bought but she felt just as exposed as I did. She too felt compelled to explain and justify her purchases.
This conversation made me think maybe we should all be looking into one another’s carts more often, metaphorically speaking. Maybe we need to know more of the everyday benign details about each other so that this random and innocent encounter doesn’t leave us feeling like we need to explain away all our actions and purchases. Maybe we need to make more of an effort to connect with people on a daily basis and witness the crazy in everyone. Interactions at work, at the store, in the park etc. should become the building blocks for creating safe and comfortable relationships with those who surround us everyday. Our shopping carts should not be the way we learn about people… but rather the continuation of a relationship we have already invested in. Judgement, shame and insecurities begone! Let our shopping cart be punchline of a joke we share together. Then the feelings we are left with upon meeting/bumping into someone in any situation, Costco or otherwise, will be about connection, relationships, engagement… not connecting the dots of one’s life through items, purchases or appearance.
I have been trying to I practice this more often, since that night in Costco, by making a commitment to intentionally seek out opportunities to connect; to spend an extra five minutes chatting or learning more about the people I am with everyday. I realise that over the last few years, while my hubby was battling cancer, I had isolated myself pretty well. I was able to avoid any additional feelings (judgements, insecurities, shame, etc.) by limiting connections to a very select few people. This was necessary then, to navigate the day-to-day living of cancer survival. But now, I am ready to open back up to the world and to people. My goal is to seek out one extra five minute connection, with someone different, each day. This “silly” encounter at Costco was obviously important, not so “silly” afterall … it stuck with me and made me seek out answers to why… why shame and insecurities? Evaluating self action/reaction in any situation is not ever easy but I believe it is necessary to live life as my best self.
I needed to begin again, to re-focus once more on making real and meaningful changes in myself so I could better engage with people. Isolation and interactions with only safe people was not helping me to live my best life. I needed to take the time to go beyond the cart, go beyond the surface stuff and connect with people in my world on a deeper level. I believe that if we all could just take the time to look past “the messy daily stuff”, the items on the surface or in the cart and dig down to heart of people we might find something more meaningful, more human. If we all could just give ourselves a break from the shame and judgement of perceptions, the chance encounters might instead bring us joy and happiness instead of wonderings and worries. That sounds pretty good to me…
So, if you happen to see me in the corner of the fine dining area of Costco, next to the air-conditioners, whipping up some crazy concoction, come on over and join me. I invite you to look into my cart and beyond…make a connection. I’d love to share a meal with you, no judgement, no shame. And no more avocado mayo.