Monday, April 23, 2007

The wiles of Wal-Mart

I walked slowly. Down the aisle, toward the shampoo, I limped and stepped, limped and stepped. If nothing else, it gave me character. But mostly, it just kept my ankle from throbbing and my back quiet.
So I limped and stepped, limped and stepped, walking into Wal-Mart during the frenzy hour. If there's one thing I hate, it's celery. If there's two things, it's celery and driving on empty. But somewhere on that list, probably between popcorn kernals stuck in my teeth and biting into aluminum foil, is going to Wal-Mart during the frenzy hour. I'd prefer to starve. Or do without toilet paper. Or just skip whatever necessity has propelled me there.
To me, it's a wasteland of shredded nerves. Everyone's anxious. Everyone's in a hurry. Babies are crying (they feel my pain). Moms are wickedly verbal or exasperatingly silent. Men are gumbling. Cell phones are ringing. People are yammering. No one is happy to be there.
Hit Wal-Mart at 2 a.m., completely different atmosphere. It's a nest of curious people and odd conversations. But at 5:30 p.m., when the school bell has just sounded, it's just screaming kids running for the playground.
But I went anyway. I had big priorities to fill. I wanted a new notebook. And darn it if I wasn't out of baking soda. So I went, limping and stepping, limping and stepping.
The place looked pretty much the same. No roller coaster had been installed since my last visit. I didn't see a traveling circus inside. Just people. Just aisles of goods. Just individual agendas rushing about trying to reach a goal.
And there was me, walking like the film reel was stuck, moving as if the focal point of a Matrix sequence. I did my Tara two-step to the stationary section, a shuffle to the toothbrushes, then I made my long track across the country to the north shore of produce. All of it I did slowly, moving to my own rhythm, not stopping to smell the roses because they were out of season, though I saw a nice fake arrangement of vines near the sewing needles.
It occurred to me, about the time I was surveying the bottles of olive oil, that this frazzled mess of a place, this hub of my disdain, didn't seem to bother me at all. Of all the times I should be loathing my presence here, I didn't loathe it. I didn't even seem to mind. Hurrying was out of the question. It was pointless to try. So I moved like the weary ship among familiar waters, though turbulence lapped at every edge.
Miraculously, I was unfazed.
The shocking truth hit me, somewhere between the Long Island of the new spring line and the Rockies glittering in the jewel cases, nothing had changed. Nothing in this madman of a convenience store had changed. Nothing but me.
It was my own hairbrained rushing, my own need to grab the goods and go, that made the event so detestable. All along, it was me.
I pondered this awhile. Besides, it took me forever to limp and step from the pharmaceuticals to the checkout lane, from the parking lot to my parking spot on the west coast. I had time to kill.
So often, more than I'd care to admit, when someone asks how I've been, I reply with, "Busy." And if they press me further, I might add, "It's just been crazy lately. Just crazy." I can't figure out what the blue blazes I'm talking about. WHAT'S been crazy? Life? It must be. Because I'm consistent with my answer. There is NEVER a moment I'm not busy, not moving, not trying to obtain a goal, an errand, a location, a particular achievement I've set for myself that day - be it baking soda or bedlam.
In all that scurring about, when, if ever, do I actually stop? When do I calm the noise? And if I don't, how can God EVER get my attention?
I've not been so jazzed with Him lately. I've been in pain, my schedule got rearranged, and dang it if God didn't allow SuperVideo to charge me late fees. Truth is, everything suddenly came to a halt. No more moving. No more achievement. No more. I sat, I stared, I waited for the nothingness to end. But what I wasn't doing was stopping. I wasn't listening. And I had left God with no other choice. The rug I was standing on got pulled. And I fell.
I read a prayer recently that has been jingling around in my brain like a pop lid stuck in the can. Initially uttered by Sir Francis Drake and later repeated by missionary Jeanie Curryer, here is the prayer,
"Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves. When our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little. When we arrive safely because we have sailed too close to the shore. Disturb us, Lord."
I finally reached my vehicle, parked in that spacious lot, with no sense to rush into traffic at all. In fact, I felt completely and utterly at peace. Instead, I sat there, reclined, and enjoyed the scenery.
Finally, perhaps the first time in ages, I stopped.

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