GROCERY SHOPPING NEAR DAWN
By JIM NICHOLS
Ordinarily, a trip to the grocery store before the sun came up would be unthinkable for me; I am a breakfast eater and I have difficulty functioning well before orange juice and cereal. However, these are not ordinary times. So, when the local market installed a twice a week 6-9 a.m. period reserved for (as the announcement diplomatically said) “patrons 60 years and over,” it sounded like an invitation to me.
I did not need much, just a loaf of bread since there was zero bread on the shelf during the most recent trip. Others apparently read the same 6-9 a.m. announcement, so the expected sparse crowd was not sparse. This somewhat undermined the aspect of social distancing.
“I’ll just make a quick trip inside and out,” I said to myself. It was relatively quick, but also thought provoking. Since this a local store, I found many other shoppers who are my friends and acquaintances. I noted the expressions on their faces and saw a mixture of concern and confusion. Like me, they generally see a trip to the store as somewhat of a social occasion. One never knows who you might encounter and there are often shopping interruptions for conversation in the aisle.
However, these are not the same days as existed until just now. To say friends need to be “wary” of one another seems hard to comprehend. We are searching for methods to maintain our connections, but some of the most common ones are unacceptable for logical, but still awkward to accept, reasons. We will figure this out, but it seems that each of us is having troubling thoughts. We may not want to admit it, but our mortality is creeping into our consciousness. I note that this current time coincides with Lent.
If it is anything, Lent is a period of introspection. Historically, Lenten observers have considered their lives with a mixture of joy and sorrow. Believers have searched their hearts and minds for blessings and failings. Repentance and forgiveness become words used more freely during Lent than during other times of the year. To speak of Lenten “resolutions” seems a bit light, but many of us feel the need to have some Lenten “plans” at the beginning. Our hearts believe that God has something in mind for us during this period. This may be something I have never thought of or something I once knew and believed and practiced but have now forgotten. On the other hand, it could be a surprise from God. We are, however, in an attitude of solemn expectancy.
In truth, however, we cannot avoid the expectancy of the Lenten phrase “From dust you came and to dust you will return.” You and I are remarkably good at ignoring that usually, but, on occasion, it meets us face to face. I believe that for many of us that is what COVID-19 has brought to us right now.
The “dust to dust” phrase is not a threat; it is a reality blessed by God. Nothing about it implies the absence of God. It says God was present in our beginning and will be present in our end. We are in His presence at all times.
This is a time in our lives (not just Lent) when introspection is unavoidable. What aspects of my current life are truly most important? Have I placed value in the best places? For what and to whom do I need to make repentance and ask forgiveness? Will this time with others be a time of warm-hearted sharing or a time when we sink into a collective human shadow of selfishness?
We often use the concept of a “teachable moment.” In times such as this, we must not miss the opportunity to recognize this as a fertile ground for spiritual growth.
Perhaps I will see you at the grocery store before sunrise.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain