Thursday, October 21, 2010

At Checkstand Number One

So you're minding your own business, trying to ignore the bleak environment of discount shopping, expecting the usual jostling of grocery carts for the shortest line. You dutifully unload your cluster of tomatoes (on the vine, with little green crowns), bulk almonds (raw, unsalted), and Honey Bunches of Oats (for the husband), when you look up into the smiling face of a clerk who greets you warmly, cracks a joke, and engages you in friendly conversation. You relax. You're smiling now. You notice others behind you in line, also smiling. Patient, happy. There's something remarkable about this.

That something remarkable is Chris Pikey, employee of the local WinCo Foods. People have been known to wait half an hour to gain the privilege of being in his line. Chris knows that attitude is more important than prestige, and doing ordinary things with kindness and a sense of humor make a person extraordinary.

(Actually, a sense of humor was on my shopping list.)

I was so impressed with the way Chris changed my day, that first time he checked my groceries. I couldn't wait to drive across town for another trip through his line.

The steady chirp of the scanner pierced the air as Chris bantered. “Looks like you did great,” he told one customer with a burgeoning shopping cart. “Hey, stranger, what’s up?” he teased another joining the line. “Only one cart today?" he asked. "Where’s the rest of it?” And a little later: “So how’s your kid? I haven’t seen him since the birthday.”

I asked him how he stays so friendly and positive with everyone.

“You’ve got to live each day like it’s your last day," he said. "You’ll have no regrets. When I go up and see God, I’m sure he’s not going to tell me, 'You lived in a big house.' He’s going to say, 'I gave you this much time and what did you do with it?' Hopefully, the escalator up will not be broken."

I asked him how he keeps his sense of humor. “It’s the only thing you have," he said.

“How do you handle customers who try your patience?” I went on.

“I’ve been here fifteen years, so I’ve seen it all. People know if you come to this line, I don’t handle grumps. I handle cool people.” He smiled at a mom with toddler in tow. “Except for this one, she’s kind of a troublemaker.” The mom beamed back at him. “If I’m going to be here for 8 hours," says Chris, "I might as well have fun.”

“That’ll be $102.74. Have a good day!" he said, handing a receipt to a finished shopper.

“You too,” came the response.

“Oh, always,” he said.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Glory of Chores

Sigh. My life would be so much better without housework or yard maintenance or errands. Yes? No. Washing, straightening, or grocery shopping keeps the rest of life in balance and enables me to live in clean spaces, wear laundered clothes, open the refrigerator and find food. Such work is a fact of life.

I find myself rushing through it, though. There's a sense that I'm wasting my time and should get on to the next thing, or perhaps hire a housecleaner, yard person, someone else to do these tasks because they're unimportant. Which leads me to ask: what is important?

My life is not about accomplishing what I think I need to accomplish. That is merely a path to constant frustration and interruption. True, I have goals and dreams and projects and intentions. But in the big picture, I must remember, my true life is "hidden with God," and it's not about doing. That includes big doings, like working on my book or teaching a class, and small doings, like making my bed. When I look at it this way, I see the importance of a task isn't all that important!

In other words, inhabiting each moment wherever I am, is my true purpose. Whether I'm mowing the lawn* or peeling carrots or giving a poetry reading. Am I walking in love and grace? Now that's important. My life is a being, and I'm trying to remember that while doing chores. Breathing. Thinking good thoughts. Being fully present instead of rushing to get to the "real" purpose of my life.

When I remember to inhabit the moments of trivial tasks, they become wonderful. Magical even. Ordinary things are seeds of blessing.

A couple of writers from Wildfire Writing's Uptown class have created some poems about doing chores. So...

Is there a menial task you can infuse with a sense of purpose, rather than rushing through?

*Last month I mowed the lawn for the first time in my entire life. Golly. I don't know whether to be proud or embarrassed. I was ready to jump in again and do it the next week, but my husband insisted on taking over. When I did get a chance to mow again, I found out the secret reason why he's always done it: it's a pleasure. Scent of green grass. Rumble of motor. The sharp stripe of short grass unrolling at your feet . . .