I was in Stop and Shop last Saturday, perusing the aisle for honey – not the one shaped like a bear but the normal one – and I found myself slowing to a standstill. I was being blocked by an unattended shopping cart, abandoned in the middle of the aisle like a burned out Toyota in a zombie apocalypse.
I scanned the area. Up the aisle and to the right, a lone woman, glasses perched on her forehead, was squinting at the label of a jar of almond butter, oblivious to the fact that her cart was blocking the entire aisle.
Being a good Christian, I stood patiently, even pretending to take a sudden interest in a nearby selection of organic jams, giving the woman time.
That lasted about three seconds, at which point I decided I had waited long enough. So I coughed, which is the supermarket version of a light toot of the horn.
Still she needed more time with the almond butter.
Well, at that point my patience was utterly exhausted – and frankly I’m surprised I’d made it that long. I began to push past her cart with mine, bumping it gently and blurting little utterances that sounded like “Oops! Whoooops!” every time my cart tapped her cart.
Now she was actually comparing two jars of almond butter, like they could be any different? It’s butter made out of almonds – it’s gonna taste like almonds. Just pick one already.
Enough was enough. I let out a loud sigh, that must have sounded, in the otherwise empty aisle, like a foghorn, and physically lifted her cart, making as much noise as possible.
At which point she turned around, embarrassed, and said “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry! Let me move that.”
I waved her away with a gentle laugh and reassured her that heaving her thousand-pound cart was absolutely no trouble at all. But of course in my head I was all like “Well, at least she realized she was in the wrong. You’ve taught that woman a valuable lesson, Conor.”
I was pretty confident I’d won that shopping trip.
Until about five minutes later, when, while picking out granola bars in that same Stop and Shop, I heard somebody moving my cart behind me, and noticed a skinny older guy lifting my cart out of the way, which I had accidentally left in the middle of the aisle. I turned and apologized, and he assured me it was no trouble as he grunted in a way that told me it was, in fact, quite a bit of trouble.
I found myself quietly seething at the guy for making such a big deal out of moving my cart. Just push it out of your way, dude – it has wheels. You gotta go all Joan of Arc on me?
So….it turns out there’s a bit of a pattern here. And it turns out that pattern is sort of the pattern of my entire life.
I, my friends, believe that I am in the right. I am the good guy. All the time.
But am I? Am I actually the good guy? Because it’s all relative, isn’t it?
That’s the problem with relativism. There’s nothing objective to hold on to and thus no way to benchmark whether you are actually the good guy or not.
I sometimes think of mice when I think of this. Me, I’m terrified of mice. But then I’m watching that Pixar movie Ratatouilli, about the mouse in the kitchen? I’m watching that with my kids, and we’re all on the mouse’s side. The mouse that is in a French kitchen messing around with the food that is going in your mouth, by the way – that’s the good guy.
Why is the mouse the good guy? This is why: Because we get an intimate look at the mouse’s life and we can see ourselves and our story in the mouse. That mouse is us.
And that’s just a mouse. A cartoon mouse that talks and somehow controls the boy-chef by yanking his hair under the chef’s hat, which would never work, by the way. And yet we see ourselves in that mouse.
But we can’t see ourselves in that other human – the one with the shopping cart.
This happens to me in traffic jams all the time. Somebody is trying to merge in. No way I’m letting this person in, right? I mean, they cut the line from way back. Somebody has to stand for justice!
So I do that thing where you keep so close to the car ahead of you that your front wheels are practically driving up their hatchback and you stare straight ahead to avoid eye contact.
Then, the window of the Evil Merger comes down. The arm comes out. It’s a human inside, as opposed to what I had imagined, which was the Terminator when his skin had been burned off in a fiery half-death. That human mouths “Could I cut in?” And suddenly I’m remembering all the times I screwed up and forgot to merge in when I was supposed to, and the exit was coming up and I needed to get over and what was I supposed to do and why wouldn’t these car-jerks let me in?
And I let the person in.
It’s incredible, my ability to not see myself in others. That I am unable to imagine that they, too, may be stressed, or having a bad day, or making a mistake that they feel bad about. Or maybe they’re just human doing human things.
So I’m working on that. Sometimes I tell myself that they’re in a rush, trying to get to the hospital, or they’ve probably had a bad day, or something like that. But maybe I can just imagine that there is a reason that there’s a rule out there known as the Golden Rule which means that it’s worth more than other rules. And maybe I can try to think about that.
Also, it wouldn’t kill them to make the aisles a few feet wider at these grocery stores.