Have you ever noticed how hard it is to really see other people in a supermarket?
It’s a weird little truth about human nature: we’re all still hunter-gatherers, there in the supermarket. Our higher cognitive processes break down when we walk through the automatic doors and grab a cart; it’s instant reptile brain. We have a list and a budget and no time to waste. Our eyes focus on the shiny, colorful shelves, searching for glimmers of what will bring us life.
We do that, and we miss the crazy diversity of life at this watering hole. We miss the single dad with three kids, pondering whether to buy the cheap or the healthy peanut butter while his progeny sneak boxes of Lucky Charms into the cart. We miss the older couple holding hands in the cat food aisle, the woman with swaying dreads whose cart blooms with produce, the man in the apron arranging pears and dreaming of being the next Cezanne.
We don’t see them as people anymore. We see them as traffic.
Don’t believe me? Try it. Even if you manage to notice others, obstructing the main aisle as you stop and stare, the next level is still a challenge: try making eye contact. I’ve found, eerily, that it does not work the great majority of the time, so well have we trained ourselves to ignore each other.
And the supermarket effect goes on and on, our half-willful forgetting of other people. I, as a pedestrian, forget there are people in those giant hunks of metal I’m trying to avoid. My survival mind refuses to acknowledge there’s at least one irreplaceable life inside each. I am quick to judge people for who they are now, right this moment, inexplicably forgetting they grew out of innocent children and will too soon return to the earth.
We live contentedly on a thin crust of soil and forget what a little distance separates us from simmering metal, from icy, airless space, from the untouched depths of the sea.
We go to the store to get what we think we need, but neglect our hunger for mystery. No, we don’t neglect it: we don’t even know it. How can we be so divorced from our deepest selves? Why do we keep eating what just makes us hungrier, all the while stifling our appetite for meaning and connection?
Reader, I don’t want you to go through life hungry. I want to feed you bites of the story that’s filled me, take a taste of yours. Thank God, I don’t have to hunt (yet) for food, and you are not my competitor. We both have life to share. Let’s let our eyes meet, and look, and smile. It’s free. And for a moment, in the middle of this world for sale, so are we.
Has a connection with a stranger fed your soul lately? How do you pay attention and respect to individuals in supermarkets or other impersonal places?