The Groceries in My Cart

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis, all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

                        – Frederich Buechner, Now and Then

It was time to do some grocery shopping this morning. Not my favorite thing. The continuing hot, humid Minnesota weather didn’t help, either. I tend to be a bit grumpy about having to leave my air conditioned comfort for even a moment’s withering heat and dampness. But food I must have.

My grocery carts this summer have often been an embarrassment. You know how it feels to get in line at the checkout and either smile with pride or look down, hunched over until you can get away from everyone who is for sure judging you for the junk that’s in it? That’s been too much of my summer so far. Too much junk. Too much summertime heat and humidity blahs. You’d think I’d learn.

My grocery cart has always been a testament to how my life is going. Really. When it’s full of fresh fruits and vegetables and skim milk and fresh chicken, single-ply TP and absent all junk food, life is going swimmingly. I am in charge.

When it’s got an over-abundance of high-calorie, high sugar, high salt, empty calorie food, triple-ply TP and three more thin-lined notebooks that I don’t need, something is out of whack. Off kilter.

It’s been that way all my adult life.

When I was a new mother – twice – the cart was full of Pampers and Enfamil and jars of mashed up fruits and vegetables, and I don’t think double-ply TP had even been thought of yet. They were delicious years, even with the challenges. The ups and downs of them. Holy times.

In the years when my boys were teenagers, I had to feed them between baseball, basketball or football games or practices. It made for meals that could hastily be put together and eaten quickly. I was not very imaginative, so my cart looked pretty helter skelter at the checkout. It took some doing to figure out if it was healthy or not.

And then there were the years when I went through a divorce. A new life of seminary and ministry and living alone and moving around all held both boredom and some excruciating pain, and yet, it was all holy. They were years of the good, the bad and the ugly for my grocery carts. It all depended on who I was becoming in the midst of it all.

But Buechner was right. They were all years filled with “key moments.” Difficult moments, but also moments of such joy and aliveness that I found myself becoming stronger and braver and more aware.

Then came the “old years,” after 50.

The grocery cart still showed the ups and downs. My ups and downs.

My second marriage at age 50 was a “holy and hidden” joy. All marriages have their ups and downs, and so did ours. But those years were also teaching me. Any boredom or pain would always give way sooner or later to a new happiness and completeness. And the joy would show up again.

Then I was alone again at 72. Ups and downs. Boredom and pain. Excitement and gladness.

It was not until recent years, in my later 70’s, that I found some new keys to the “holy and hidden heart” of life that Buechner describes. Maybe because life now grew shorter. The cart of my elder years began to fill with new graces. Healthy graces.

Like the grace of gratitude. The wonder of mindfulness: paying attention!

The grace of finally believing in myself. At last I accepted that I had been put here for purposes beyond my knowing. I trusted that in the time left to my life, I will still have gifts to discover and celebrate and share. And they will all be grace.

The grace of never again taking life for granted. Now, more than ever. My life is so rich, so full of meaning, so heavy with joy and satisfaction and goodness. I love this holy time.

The grace of touching and tasting and smelling everything around me and finding new wonder and breathlessness.

The grace of noticing and embracing all those “key moments” that are life as we are meant to live it.

There will be times when that may be more of a challenge. If I can hold on to the sacredness of every part of life now, I think I stand a chance of being more ready for whatever shows up.

My actual grocery cart this morning was bursting with everything good as I stood in line to check out. Even hairspray for my flyaway hair. I am back in charge, it said. Sad to say, only the check out person knew how well I’d done. I had to make do with that singular sense of approval.

Buechner was right. Life is a holy gift. Why not find the eyes and heart to receive it? All of it.

Fathomless mystery indeed. Life itself is sometimes a humble, everyday grace. And I’m very okay with that.

So – what’s in YOUR grocery cart?