This weekend marks my one year anniversary of working on the grocery line. Of course, when I started, I didn’t know it would be a “grocery line” or anything interesting in the abstract. I assumed by March that I would move on into a different space in life. But instead, I was whipped into a brave new world ravaged by fear and uncertainty, just like everyone else. These things happen. It’s a pandemic with the added stresses of a modern era with social media and 24hrs news.
If you are interested in how this all started, I encourage you to read my first post: https://lifeonthegroceryline.com/2020/04/observations-essential-personnel-coronavirus-pandemic/
Most anniversaries bring nostalgia but I’m struggling with finding the good parts on this particular day. I don’t know why it’s so hard. My choices lead me to a place where — after a year in a grocery store — I am a supervisor and make enough money to survive, I’m insured, I am publishing a book about my experiences, I have connected with thousands of people and shared in our collective struggles. By any standard, I’m doing well. I have little to complain about. But I seem to find something to whine about every day.
Linda and Dave still come into my store and get upset when we don’t have the soy nuggets or organic plantains they want, telling us they, “Wasted a fucking trip.” They call and ask if our burger bar is open, and when I say it is not, they will hang up on me as if there isn’t a famous hamburger joint literally a block away from our store or any other number of restaurants that will deliver. People still ask employees to wrap cold and expensive items like fresh red snapper. They set it down on a shelf that isn’t refrigerated. It spoils. No one bats an eye except for the person who has to clean it up. But if you look at it the right way, it’s pretty funny.
I work in an interesting and frustrating and eye-opening microcosm of American life. When I think about it in terms of breath and scope of experience, my year on the grocery line has been a grand lesson in humility. The amount of work people do to make sure others get their Thanksgiving Day meals and everyday lunches has forever earned my respect. For the most part, it’s thankless but they still work hard and smile. We have fun. It’s not a death camp. But it’s a place, especially with a pandemic thriving and a quality of life turned into melted ice cream, that can grind anyone down to a nub.
Maybe that’s what I should be nostalgic about on my anniversary since I have the rare opportunity to witness the beauty of hard work in the face of precariousness. Look around, greatness is everywhere. Perseverance seems uncanny and natural to humans when we least expect it. We don’t know how to stop, and god willing, we make it through. We are like cockroaches after a nuclear blast. Surviving is the only option. Many of us have gone through terrible heartache and pain in the last year. But that will not end us. And the struggle will only make us stronger.