Across the Checkout Line

Lake Manyara

The other day I was standing at the checkout lane of Whole Foods. Instead of paying attention to my groceries being scanned I was rapt in the discussion going on in checkout line across from me. There was a gregarious woman chatting along happily. I caught a sliver of the exchange and grasped she was discussing motorcycles unfavorably. The woman standing in line behind her briefly chimed into the conversation. This was followed by a question. All I heard was “sister” and then the first woman respond with, “I’m so sorry. I’m really sorry.” To which this woman mumbled something and looked down.

The woman in front of her shortly returned to her banter.

I kept looking across, hoping to give some sort of magical look to convey that she was not alone. But she was. And she never looked up again. Some invisible chasm of grief had swallowed her whole. Occasionally she’d glance over and down to her children, or back towards her groceries but her face didn’t change.

My groceries piled neat in their bags, I paid and walked out to the parking lot. I loaded my car and started to drive home. And then I started to cry. The face of the woman standing across from me in the checkout line haunted me. I understood keenly, especially that morning, how easy it is for a anger to accidently bump against these undetectable bruises left by raw grief. How our words hold these tiny shards that sometimes scrape against someone.

Seeing her sadness unleashed the tears we both held back.

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