Preconceptions and Unknown Endings

I went grocery shopping this weekend and was stressed by the time I got to the store. A later than normal start, too much traffic, too many people, costs of everything so high, worrying about the list of things to get done…I’m sure you understand. When I finally got inside, gripping my list, here was this young woman blocking the whole aisle with her cart across it. She had a toddler on one hip and a little one, maybe around three, in the cart, and was waving her free hand as she berated a young man in a store uniform.

My tension immediately ratcheted up. I stood waiting, feeling martyred, and then sighing heavily, went to the left and around displays until I could come out on the other side of her.

But when I made eye contact with her, frowning to show my disapproval I’m sure, she burst into tears and came up to me holding out her child. The young woman was frantic. Rather than berating the store employee as she waved her free hand around, she was panicked. She asked me if I’d seen a wallet with keys. The toddler had fallen and hit her head. She didn’t know what to do and couldn’t leave the store without keys.

All my stress, all the things that a moment before had been so important, disappeared. I asked the mom if her daughter had a lump, and she said ‘yes!’ crying even harder. I told her that it was a good thing as it meant swelling was going out rather then in. Thinking the toddler had been walking, I asked how far the child had fallen and was horrified to hear she had toppled over the edge of the cart from the seat. I told the mom that was a significant distance and to go to customer service while the employee and I looked for her wallet. I told her if we couldn’t find it quickly to ask for an aid car. The other child sat in the cart, clearly trying not to cry, but she would look at her mom, and then up at me, a stranger, and the tears would start. Then she would grip the handle of the cart and stare at her hands, taking deep breaths until tears stopped. But then she would look back at me and the little face would crumple again.

As the young employee and I looked in the aisles the woman had been shopping in, an older man asked what was happening. When we told him he said his daughter had done the same thing when little and joined in the search. A store manager came to help. We thought to go back to the aisle where the child had fallen and I asked if anyone had a flashlight. With the flashlight, we found the wallet under the shelving.

The last I saw of the little family was the mother, still in tears, on her way out of the store and headed to the nearby urgent care clinic, thanking me as she went out of my life as quickly as she’d come into it.

I was left with two things that have remained on my mind.

First, I’m a bit ashamed of my immediately negative reaction. I jumped to a conclusion, made an assumption that the woman was one more self-entitled person so important they could block an aisle and no one else mattered. I was caught up in my own stress and projected that and all I saw was what my negativity and unhappiness wanted to see.

I have no idea why the woman burst into tears when she saw me. Maybe I looked like some older woman she knew. I certainly didn’t have an empathetic expression on my face, I’m sure. But the instant she started crying, my preconception was gone, like river mist when the sun comes out. I felt hollowed and ashamed later, but at that moment all I wanted was to help.

I need to remember that things aren’t always as we perceive them to be. I need to remember there are still kind people out there. Not just the employees, but the man who at one point was laying flat out on the floor in an aisle looking under shelving.

Second, I was left with no ending to the story. Was the toddler okay? And what about the other child, who looked to be around three? I saw myself at that age in her eyes. Gripping the handle, fighting for control, striving to be strong, and then not, because hell, she’s only three years old. Not fully understanding and powerless. Who will she grow up to be? And what about the mom? How will this change how she moves through her days from now on? Or will it change anything, once the fear is gone and everything is okay? Will it just become a bad memory?

One of the hardest things when I was on the fire department as an EMT, was never hearing the ending of stories. We would be so deeply, so intimately, involved in a person’s life for such a brief moment. Whether it was sharing the ending of a life, or helping after an injury or transporting after a medical issue, we were closer, in those moments, than any family member.

Chief and husband training recruits

And then they were gone. We never found out if they put their lives back together, or if they survived, or how they survived. We were part of them, and then not.

It’s so hard not having closure. Not hearing the ending. I used to make up endings in my imagination and hope they were real.

But in the end, I never knew.

Meandering To Work

The drive to work is along a twisty, dark highway with no streetlights. Trees on both sides, and a river you can glimpse through the trees when it’s light out. But at 5:00 in the morning it’s not light out. It’s been rainy and windy lately with lots of leaves coming down. This morning, I drove through a low-lying ribbon of creek mist where a stream rockets down to the river and goes under the road.

Immediately, I was off. Did I just drive through the ghost of a deer that had been hit there and was now traumatized all over again? That was too horrible to think about.

Was it the Shadow People (or Shadow Men) – those terrifying soul vampires of the ghost world that I discovered when researching monsters for a book? That was too scary to think about.

Was it the ghost of an old guy who doesn’t know he died and still goes fishing in the river in the fall, and was on his way with rod and reel?

Was it a forest spirit that hangs out on the highway on purpose in order to get hit by vehicles? In my imagination I could hear it dissipating into the wind after I drove through, yelling ‘wheeeeee!!!!!’ loudly as it rode the currents up into the trees, scattered among the branches, and then floated back down with the rain to wait for the next car and start the ride all over again.

And all of a sudden I was at work.

When you have a vivid imagination, you’re never alone. Or bored.

Control

We all do things that help us feel in control of our lives. Some are tiny habits we may not even be aware of. One of the ways I feel in control is having plans in place. When I was little, these plans consisted of ways I would keep my younger siblings safe. I’ve mentioned this before in other blog posts.

When I was nine years old I had a plan in place to protect the siblings from the birds, for example. I would cram us into this tiny half-bathroom we had because there were no windows. I could put rolled up towels at the base of the door so nothing could come underneath. We’d have a toilet and water from the sink. We’d be safe.

Nine years old.

I had plans for what I would do when volcanoes erupted in my back yard, when dinosaurs came up over the horizon, when the atom bomb fell, and if a day came when mom and dad never came home.

These days my plans are a little more realistic. I’ve finally reached the age where I’m pretty sure dinosaurs aren’t going to come back and eat us.

This need to have plans in place slides over into a need to have a full pantry, like I’ve also mentioned here before. I need to feel stocked up.

Social media over the past few years has become difficult for me. It seems like there is so much hatred out there, and like people have been given a free pass to say whatever they want behind the computer screen.

To save my sanity, I started filling my social media with posts from groups I joined. I am a member now in groups about birds and rocks and foraging and canning and earthquakes and crocheting and…you get the idea.

I joined a group about stocking up and that one has turned out to be a mistake.

First, there’s a fine line between being prepared and being paranoid. Between being stocked up and being a hoarder.

Second, there’s a moral debate between how much one stocks up. Do you plan on feeding just your family, or do you hope to be able to help your community?

Third, there is a level of paranoia (unless you’re a serious pepper and then it’s not paranoia at all). Some people post photos of their lovely pantries and others will jump on them for using their real name, showing everyone what they have, and even listing the areas they live, saying that they make themselves targets for when the shit hits the fan.

And fourth, I realized this group starts me spiraling out of control. I see what others are doing to be prepared and that low-level panic deep inside begins to stir.

Flour! Oh my god, I only have one bag. These people are buying cans of grain to make their own flower, or growing grains, because when it gets bad, how will you bake bread when your single bag of flour runs out? I NEED cans of grains!

Medical supplies, five-gallon buckets of dehydrated meals, how to dig out a root cellar to keep things cold when there’s no refrigeration, salt and alcohol to barter with…

All these posts make me feel woefully unprepared, at risk, scared, and worried.

Here’s the thing. In reality, we’re fine. My brain knows that. We’re fine.

But that little child afraid of dinosaurs is down there frantic because there is no plan.

So what is my plan?

I’m quitting that stocking up group.

I’ve learned it’s not a match for me because instead of giving me great ideas, it’s giving me nightmares.

I’m going to qualify that statement though. One of the siblings I protected from erupting volcanoes is also in the same group. I told her she has to be my spy. I want her to pass on to me the good ideas. That way I can still benefit from the group without having nightmares.

Otherwise my poor husband is going to have to start digging out that root cellar.