An Essential Errand

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From my vantage point, I couldn’t tell if his eyes were open or closed. I wanted to take photos, but I didn’t want to interrupt him

I got to Trader Joe’s before 8am. People were already lining up outside, each grabbing a shopping cart and placing it in front of their bodies, between themselves and the next person. The joys of social distancing.

I had just taken a cart for myself when a young, bearded man approached the area. We met each other’s eyes and smiled. I was impressed by how genuine this stranger’s smile was. We each said “Good morning,” and he proceeded with getting his cart and moving to a place in line.

When a senior patron was declined a request to be admitted inside early, I learned the store would not be opening for another hour, so I decided to come back some other time. I sanitized my hands, got back in my car, turned the key in the ignition and checked my rear view mirror.

It was then that I noticed the young bearded man in the distance behind me. His cart was along the wall with the others in line, his fellow customers standing, slumping, looking at their phones, but he had stepped out in front of them and was standing, straight backed, head slightly down, with his arms out from his sides, palms up and rising, as if he was welcoming, embracing and gathering the sun and the world, all at the same time.

From my rear view mirror vantage point, I watched him repeat an exercise in which his arms slowly kept rising until they were over his head, then came down in an equal meeting with each other just in front of his face, like he was pushing gently down onto slowly sinking, level water.

His arms continued the gentle push down until they were at his sides, and he flicked his wrists at the last moment, as if to dispose of any stray, unnecessary droplets of energy.

He slowly repeated this exercise at least four or five times. I admired the lack of self consciousness that allowed him to do this in public almost as much as I admired the exercise itself, his patience and presence in the midst of pandemic and parking lot.

There is not much room on our minds right now for anything but the virus. The world is shutting and hunkering down, waiting for an invisible monster wave to crash. We feel sadness, anxiety and fear. Tom and Rita tweet from quarantine. We try to amass enough toilet paper and granola bars to wait it out on the high ground of home.

I didn’t get my groceries or even a chance at a pack of toilet paper at this particular trip to Trader Joe’s, but I did witness that calm. In these days, in this moment, it felt important.

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