Susan's Blog

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Slow down. Just stop.

Recently while getting on the checkout line at a local supermarket, I sized up the backlog of items on the belt and the cashier and the packer — as I always do. It was around 3:30 in the afternoon, the last of the winter light thinning out, and the traffic outside was picking up. I was starting to feel the weight of the evening ahead sinking onto my shoulders. I wanted a quick checkout. The cashier had bright brown eyes and a cheerful round face peaking out from a head scarf. She had a strong smile and confident eye contact that told me all I needed to know. This was a good line to be in.

But then I saw the packer, moving as if in slow motion. Her mouth was slack on one side. I heard her explaining something to the customer ahead of me, something that did not need explaining. Ohh, I thought. Disability.

But, yeah, I have a son with a disability who also works in a supermarket, and I wanted to give this woman a chance.

My checkout went quickly, and before I knew it I was burrowing through my handbag for my wallet while the packer laboriously loaded my two bags. I was just writing the amount in my checkbook when I saw her hoist the bananas into the paper bag already stuffed with boxes of lettuce and the pineapple chunks. The bananas sat uncomfortably perched on the lettuce and started to tip. I reached out and quickly set it right, but the paper handle tore and the whole thing fell on the floor. She and I watched and waited for the disastrous splat. As the round plastic container of pineapple wheel to a stop, I knelt down and started stuffing everything quickly in to the ripped bag, while the packer exclaimed over and over, “Oh, no! That was my fault! I should have listened to you!”

I hadn’t actually said anything except maybe to murmur about the heavy bananas being tricky, but she was just horrified at herself. The more upset she got, the calmer I acted, determined that this would not be a problem. I said, “No, don’t worry, everything’s fine. Look,” and I gestured with the lumpy bag in my arms. She remained unconvinced and sad. I said again, “It’s fine. No worries,” and I walked out struggling with the bag, pretending I wasn’t.

I got to my car, with a prickly anxiety catching on my thoughts like thorns. What would happen to her? Would there be trouble? Probably not, because the store had to know about her challenges. And also because of me. I had tried to make the whole thing look like nothing, when really, as checkouts go, this was not that great. To have the customer fix the packing job, and then kneel down on the floor picking up her own groceries. To let her leave with a torn bag. In that little supermarket world, this was bad stuff.

And what if the customer hadn’t been someone like me? I got to thinking about the way the world is, beyond those automatic doors. People want things just so. We are all in a hurry — but to get where? Nowhere, really. Almost everything can wait, when you think about it. Yet we tailgate each other on the road bearing down on our horns, when we’re just trying to get home. Which can wait. Or to work, to an appointment. If we’re late there are consequences. So we have to be obnoxious, because we’re all a big bunch of dominoes. One tries to stand still, but then another one knocks into us. We just can’t stop. We can’t stop our twitchy brains or our wiggly fingers from pulling out the phone and tapping away. We are like sharks, we have to keep moving. Even sitting at a stoplight we have to do something.

We are a society that cannot slow down and breathe. We don’t allow ourselves to think. We expect everyone to move at top speed, ultra competent, no mistakes. But where are we all going? What is all the rush and rage about?

The days are growing shorter. Our hearts are racing, our teeth are gnashing.We say that this is the world, though. it’s a tough place. We have to live in it the way it is. Sink or swim.

But I think it can be different. We can slow down.


Our packages may burst. So pick them up. Because, really, we should be bursting. With joy. That we are even here, alive, today.


Beautiful Susan, and so true. “Top speed, ultra competent, no mistakes.”
My own son, now learning to be the customer, slow to count the correct number of bills, to carefully place his change in his pocket and say “Thank you.” Let’s wait for him too, and not burst with impatience. It’s only a few extra seconds in a long, long life.

— added by Cathy Ballou Mealey on Tuesday, December 15, 2015 at 6:00 pm

The more I get into yoga and mindfulness, the more I just stand there in line and breathe. My latest adventure is to (in 2016), quit my case manager/behaviorist job at a very nice day program and get out there and teach yoga to folks with disabilities.I will always also do something related to ABA, but right now, this is my passion and where my 500 hour yoga training is talking me. I taught an hour and a half class this am, with 4 women and it was phenomenal. We did breathing, used essential oils, modified poses, talked about kindness and gratitude. I can’t wait until this is at least half of my focus. So breathe, and wait, and mindfully pick up groceries. I hope you bagger doesn’t get in trouble too. Sometimes, our folks have to do better (unfair) and more is demanded (also unfair). They are so sweet and so good.

— added by michele on Friday, December 18, 2015 at 5:57 pm

Lovely words Susan, I especially need to be reminded to slow down at this time of year. Thanks for this and enjoy the holidays!

— added by kim mccafferty on Tuesday, December 22, 2015 at 10:10 am

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