I love Costco. I wish I didn’t, but I can’t help it. It’s a feeling I get when I’m there. I usually hate big box stores with their white-bright lights and endless shelves of cheap crap I mostly don’t need. But sometimes I can’t help myself. “But it’s only two dollars!” I say, as if twenty two dollar items didn’t add up to a respectable chunk of cash that fits so much more easily in my wallet than a bin of plastic trinkets fit into my already crammed house.
There’s just something about Costco. Maybe it’s the rural girl in me. My parents have three freezers. The big one, that you could fit a body in, is full of chunks of cow and lamb from the farm up the road. The others are for the odds and ends none of us can go without, like ice cream and frozen waffles. When my stepmother goes to the grocery store thirty miles away, she shops for the week. Especially when winter comes and the roads become treacherous, you just need to have food in the house. I feel that same compunction, though I have five grocery stores within walking distance (as long as you have a stroller to load up, that is).
I don’t make it to Costco that often, but I always look forward to it. When I walk (quickly – this is a grocery store, not the farmer’s market) through the looming aisles, filling up my cart with gallons of this and extra-wide boxes of that, I feel safe, at peace, as I think about the money I am saving, and the anxiety I am avoiding about what to cook for dinner when I have no plan. The roads might not get treacherous around here very often, but sometimes getting two kids in the car to go the grocery store sounds as appealing as driving forty-five minutes on a snow-encrusted road.
I sometimes wonder about this privilege I have, and what it could be doing to my dependence on community and on God. Obviously I have to feed myself, and in our family, I am the weekday cook because of my husband’s work schedule. But the security of a house full of food cuts me off from the experience of those who regularly go without. There are many, many people who hardly have the ability to go regularly to the grocery store, not to mention fill a pantry full of just-in-case extras. And I believe it is my job and privilege to reach out to those in need of help who I find in my path. This presents all kinds of questions, though: Is it enough to acknowledge this, and to donate to the food pantry? I don’t think so. I am the anonymous giver, they are the recipient. I feel good, they get what they need, but we are disconnected. I know my life would be enriched by giving of myself, too, but this is a conundrum for a mother of two kids with limited time, career aspirations and the desire to maintain some semblance of a social life. Where is the balance?
For now, I will do what I can to remember how fortunate I am. When I’m done nursing I’ll reinstate my practice of fasting. (I will, though I have a love/hate relationship with fasting.) I’ll try to find ways to sacrifice my squirrel tendencies. I’ll be grateful everyday, and hope that spills over. I know I may be materially rich, but I am poor in many other ways. How can I open myself up to the richness all around me?
As you can see, I need ideas here. You few readers of this blog, how do you stay present to the needs around you when you are fortunate to not be as materially needy? And if you don’t have this good fortune, what is your experience of staying connected to the people around you? How do we make this thing called community work when we have such full lives? I welcome your thoughts.