Clean Up Aisle 5

I love Cocoa Pebbles.  Sweets aren’t usually my thing, but sometimes the chocolate and milk combination are exactly what I need in my life.  

Grocery shopping has been very painful the last few months.  The stares...the dirty looks...the comments...they all have made my skin a bit tougher than before the quarantine.  COVID-19 has made some people a bit squeamish around healthcare workers.

Recently, I found myself in the cereal aisle at our local grocery store.  As I contemplated the number of “Family Size” boxes of Cocoa Pebbles that would be mine, I looked over to see a man and woman turning the corner and heading my way.  The woman smiled at me and said “Cocoa Pebbles! You must be a wonderful mother.” I chose not to divulge my love of Cocoa Pebbles and the likelihood that I would be consuming the majority of them.  I simply smiled back (through my mask) and said “I’m trying my best!”

Behind this sweet woman was a man on a motorized cart, the kind with the attached grocery basket.  He was wearing a hat that read “Vietnam Veteran.” He drove right up beside me and stopped. He was not more than 6 inches from me, obviously defying the 6 foot rule.  The man looked at me and asked “Are you a nurse?” I immediately braced myself for the reprimanding I knew I was about to receive.

I paused, thanking God (again) for the mask to cover my facial expression and all of the soundless words I have mouthed in response to the previous criticism from others.  I decided that I had enough of this behavior from complete strangers. I planned to help this man understand that it is not acceptable to be disrespectful to me today and ask me to save his life tomorrow.  I looked the man in the eyes and said, “Yes, I am a nurse.”

The man’s response was not what I expected. He peered back at me and said, “Thank you for all you’re doing to keep us safe.”  A Vietnam Veteran was thanking ME? I also thanked him for his service.

The man continued down the aisle in his motorized cart as I sobbed, alone, in front of the Cocoa Pebbles.  I’m sure the scene made sense to no one.  

Emotions have caused people to make irrational decisions these last few months.  Beliefs and values are changing as a result of world events. That day in aisle 5, I was disappointed, proud, sad, angry, confused, happy, fearful, thankful and blessed.

This year will undoubtedly not be forgotten and will permanently change our lives.  COVID-19, riots, death and destruction are a few words we will use to describe the first 6 months of 2020.  But, the changes within us are equally as concerning. Communities are dividing amongst accusations and blame.  Families are torn apart by depression, suicide and anxiety. All of this negativity is wearing on us and we are spiraling into the depths of darkness.

I realized that day that I had allowed my heart to be tarnished by the hatred in the world and the disgust of others.  The solution to our 2020 devastation isn’t equality and it isn’t a vaccination. It doesn’t seem like the popular choice, but the only way we will get through this is to change our hearts and make the decision to treat each other as God intended.  

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