Friday, June 6, 2014

An Uncomfortable Life

I see her pretty much every day, pushing her grocery cart around the streets where I live. It's not L.A. or New York City. It's just a mid-size midwest town.

In the summertime, her skin has a tan glow ... but not a healthy one. It's hardened and sunburned. She pushes her cart down the sidewalk outside my office window. The wheels rattle as she goes by. I think she takes shelter at times behind my building. 

During the long Michigan winter, she wears a thick down coat but her skin still shows a ruddy glow, hardened by the colder temperatures. She is still pushing that grocery cart. It is full of bags.

I saw her at Taco Bell one day. She was quietly sitting at a window table eating a box of tacos. Her grocery cart sat outside the window, parked like a bike near the doorway.

I don't know her name. I've never spoken to her. She never makes eye contact when we pass each other. She didn't look up from her meal that day as my son and I walked out. But I see her. And one thing I've noted ... I've never witnessed one time where she has held up a sign or asked for money or support.

So I find myself wondering what her story is. How did she come to live like this ... pushing a grocery cart around the downtown area? Where does she go at night? Where does she go when it rains or snows? What does she eat? Where does the money come from? How does she survive day to day to day? Why is she alone, pushing a grocery cart around Royal Oak?

I have no answers. And, I must honestly admit that I've never stopped her as she walks past me. Never asked her name or offered to assist her. That bothers me. See, I thought about it that day in Taco Bell. But then I did nothing. Since I've never seen her ask for assistance before, I didn't want to insult her. Perhaps nothing "happened" to place her in these circumstances. Perhaps she has found some sense of realness or satisfaction in the simplicity of her existence. Perhaps she has chosen this life ... a life that to me seems riddled with strife and hardship. An uncomfortable life.

Life is filled with choices every single day. We choose what to wear, what to eat, who to talk to, who to love and who to reject. We choose our activities and our goals and our hopes and our friends. We even choose our enemies. We choose to keep learning and growing and living every single day. Or, we choose to settle in, sit on the couch or recline in our easy chair and watch the world move along. We choose to protect our heart or open it up. We choose to explore new activities (like PoleFit classes or yoga). We choose to push ourselves and sign up for a 1/2 marathon or run daily or visit the gym when it's still dark outside. We choose to audition for that role. We choose to apply for a new job. We reach out or walk away. We choose the things and people to invest in ... and when to let go of those things or people that no longer serve us. Choices greet us every time we step outside our door. Heck, just stepping outside is a choice.

I don't know whether The Grocery Cart Lady chose the life she is living or whether she became a victim of circumstances I can't begin to comprehend. I've never faced a situation like that. But I don't see her huddled on a street corner. I see her moving along and making her way in the world as sure as I hear the wheels turn on her cart.

I'd like to help her. But since I don't know how I choose to help others from meeting her uncomfortable fate. I've sponsored three different children through World Vision and donated to various support-focused organizations. I've volunteered and served food to the homeless. I've stopped my car at an exit ramp to give a few dollars and a lunch to someone whose sign said they were homeless and needed help. I've paid attention and offered a smile instead of ignoring those who walk past or near me. I've opened the envelopes requesting a few dollars for a Thanksgiving meal. Not tooting my horn or asking for thanks ... just anonymously doing what I can do to make a difference in the lives of people I will truly never know. 

I have a good life ... an easy one by most standards. I don't need to worry where my next meal is coming from and I don't push a grocery cart around town. I have a home and plenty of clothes and shoes. My children can participate in the activities they choose and I have my own car to transport me around town and beyond. HOWEVER, I do not choose to settle down to a comfortable life either. I challenge myself, embracing new experiences and opportunities. I reach out to those I care for and leap oceans for them whether or not they step over a damn puddle for me ... that's just who I am. 

I'm over 40 but I'm not done yet. There are things I want to do and places I long to visit. I have Dreams and Hopes. I don't think I'm unique here. If we continue to see our lives as a work in progress ... as though we are a lump of clay spinning on a potter's wheel awaiting the pounding, shaping and eventually the fire before we are finished ... we will live an uncomfortable life. We will get bruised. But we can get up and move too.

Sometimes what we do sets us outside our fundamental comfort zone. Sometimes it stretches us. Sometimes it hurts. But it makes us stronger. It makes us alive and not some puppet blindly following a flow chart. 

When I die, I want my tombstone to read She Loved Deeply & Lived Fully. That might mean some scraped knees along the way. But it also means adventure and exploration. Great love might bring great pain ... but it's great so I will deal. And I will have lived and embraced all life has to offer with two hands ... not necessarily fearlessly since sometimes I am afraid but with a passion that enables me to push past the limits fear might try to apply. 

The Grocery Cart Lady haunts my thoughts. Maybe someday I will reach out and give her a Taco Bell gift card, purchased because I was thinking of her as I ate my comfort food there one lunch hour. I wonder about her story. Maybe someday I will ask. 

I hope I will never live her Uncomfortable Life. I may never know how she came to be with that Grocery Cart. But I learn something from her. Life can be uncomfortable. I choose to see that as an opportunity for myself and not a hindrance. No, I don't want to explore her life. But, I pledge to honor my own quest as it beckons me ... to avoid the easy road and the unkind road but not fear the bumpy road. I pledge to strike out on an adventure to fully live this life I have been given.

And if it gets Uncomfortable, well, I guess I'll face those challenges along the way. I mean, no one said Childbirth was easy or pain-free ... but the results are pretty damn incredible.. 
                                                                                                                        ... Jenni