In strange places, nonetheless.
This particular morning I was power walking through the aisles of Target, in search of cereal bars for a quick breakfast before meeting a friend I hadn’t seen in years. My mission: timeliness. Lately I’d been succumbing to the sultry pull of lateness, but truly, this tendency irked me. I prided myself on maintaining consistent timeliness as a teenager because my mother had provoked near-insanity in my nine-year-old-self, shuttling me to every.single.appointment at least ten minutes late. Nowadays, I’m able to calculate the theoretical ratio between the necessary time remaining for travel and my estimated lateness like a pro; yet, this never fails to inspire raw panic within me. So, this morning’s mission of timeliness would be accomplished with power walking and way-faster-than-the-speed-limit driving. Perfect.
Approaching my turn at the register, I thrust my bag at the cashier while searching for my credit card with the furthest bill date.
“I have my own bag.”
Silence, yet comfortably so. I glanced upward.
“Hello. How are you?” asked the cashier, deliberately leaning forward. He was an older man with graying hair and wrinkled skin. Wearing a bemused expression, his voice playful, he was so clearly entertained by my frenzied state that I couldn’t help but giggle.
(In truth, I was embarrassed I could ignore someone so easily. *Mental note: ask everyone how they are. Always.)
“I’m so sorry, how are you?”
“I’m ok. Just take a breath, relax.”
He had amiable eyes. How was he delivering this somewhat condescending message with such kindness?
“I’m just in a rush, I’m sorry!” I apologized; I couldn’t remember the last time I acted like this. I acknowledged my rudeness because maybe, just maybe, doing so would eradicate my ignorance. It was a desirable and convenient theory.
“Keep breathing, keep breathing. I’ll get a move on. Relax…!”
I was still looking for the right credit card. Which one had the lowest balance?
“Miss, I need this.”
The man had been grabbing at the bag between my fingers; I didn’t even realize I was still holding it. Gripping it, actually. I mumbled, “Sorry, sorry.”
“It’s ok, it’s ok!” he conveyed with laughter. There was a type of softness in his voice that I couldn’t quite place. I finally lifted my gaze to swipe my card and grab my now-full bag.
“Have a nice day!”
He laughed again: “You too, miss. You too.”
“And I’ll try to slow down!” I added. Perhaps this was an obligatory sentiment, but at least I tried. He laughed again.
With this exchange complete, I power walked back to my car and pulled out of my parking spot with the swiftness of person practiced in the art of driving under time pressure.
And then I began to think.
Sometimes, the universe speaks to us in the form of an elderly Target cashier.
This man was kind enough to reach over my barrier, my cocoon of speed and agility, my downward look indicating I did not want conversation, and speak to me. He dared unravel a few of the myriad threads holding my world together, protecting me like a shield, and whisper a message with his kind eyes.
This man was a messenger. Was he my particular messenger? No, probably not, but he was a messenger of sorts. And now it was my turn to absorb his words and decipher their meaning. I concluded that our conversation could mean three things:
- I was not meant to live in the extremely fast-paced area of Bergen County.
- I should always show kindness toward the people around me.
- I need to engage.
I began to ponder the last point. Lately I felt like I’d been trying to slow down, yet hated it: I would spend hours scrolling through meaningless pages on my laptop at early hours of the morning, my eyes half-closed in sleepiness. If this was relaxation, I wanted no part of it. But what if slowing down meant I needed to engage in my surroundings, rather than aimlessly numb my brain?
What if, like a child, I could find grandeur in any moment? I liked this idea: life could expand and contract based on my level of engagement with the world.
I considered a world in which everyone sustained such a high level of engagement: happily acknowledging other people in the street, admiring the leaves and the way their waxy exteriors glisten in the sun, searching for knowledge with eyes fixed ahead instead of looking at phones for quick-fix stimulation. An open-armed world built on a foundation of wonder.
Clearly this type of world could be created only by certain messenger-type people, those brave enough to pick others up, shake them, and say, “What are you doing, asshole? There’s a whole world out there! Look at it!”
And yet…what if we’re all messengers, just in disguise? Only a few kind-hearted souls may reveal themselves as such, but maybe we all possess the potential for deliverance deep within our bones. Everyone could experience life in broader colors, perceiving grandiosity on every corner. For those that view the world in grey, well, any one of us would gladly point out the colors and encourage them to see.
Because we’re all messengers.
Sometimes, the universe kicks us in the ass and says, “Wake up, now!” in the form of an elderly Target cashier who just gets it.
And for that, I am grateful. I will lace up my messenger shoes and continue forward, because every person deserves to own a pair.
Every person deserves to know they’re worth it.