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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Let me tell you about my day. But first, some backstory.

I love our Farmers Market. I adore it. I just don’t adore it currently. Currently, the place where it is held is being dismantled and turned into a crappy suburban mall so it is a disaster of construction. Three points of ingress and egress have been reduced to one, and tourists flock there like it’s the cutest thing they’ve seen since a front porch.

So I have been ordering online and going there only to pick up what I’ve already ordered. It’s what I had planned for today. One order of meat and eggs, and one order of coffee for Ralph. In, out, done.

But that’s not how it happened.

Here’s how it happened.

I got there early, thinking I was being smart for outsmarting traffic, which was hilarious all by itself. I’ll spare you the details. When I arrived, the farm where I ordered my meat and eggs was not there. Turns out all the construction and nonsense happening around here put a lot of people out, and a chunk of vendors were held up in traffic and very late to the party.

I read the tea leaves and saw a crowd forming so I got on line and stood at the empty spot where the vendor should have been. And waited. I waited for a full half hour before the vendor arrived, at which point a great deal of madness and mayhem ensued as they tried to unpack their truck and get their people in order and pull out CSAs and find pre-orders and get customers to the register.

Sidebar: the woman who owns this farm lost her husband just two days ago. I got the email with the news. It was heartbreaking. As with all these farms, they are family-run, and this one was owned and run by a husband-wife team, who is now just a wife, and not even that. The fact that she showed up at all was both impressive and heartbreaking, but the farm has to earn its living.

When you know something like that, you reach into your soul and find patience. You find empathy and understanding. You do not get irritable when there is a mixup or when the line takes a bit longer than usual to move. You look at the woman who is not much older than you, who just put her husband in the ground, and you are grateful that it wasn’t you. You’re grateful that this woman can function at all so you don’t have to spend a week without eggs, god forbid.

As I waited for the orders to be retrieved, I listened to the women behind me grumbling about the confusion. And how long they had been waiting. And how they were ready to go home. And how they have kids, and they couldn’t just be there all day. They didn’t seem like tourists, they seemed like regulars. They seemed to know other people on this line to whom they were also grumbling.

I am not a confrontational person. I am very much a shut-up-and-mind-your-business person. But sometimes I’m not. After listening to these people for long enough I turned around and asked if they were on this farm’s mailing list.

Yes, they were.

Oh, so you know that she lost her husband?

Yes, they did.

Then perhaps we can exhibit some patience and understanding. I’m sure she has other things on her mind. Perhaps we can appreciate that she is here at all.

And that got them to shut up for a minute.

Eventually I got my order, thanked the farmer for being there, and lugged my 25 pounds of meat and 8 dozen eggs to the car.

One mission down. I trekked myself to the coffee vendor. She knows me well, and looked chagrined from a mile away. She had forgotten the coffee. Her father and father-in-law had both been hospitalized this week so she was dealing with her own life, and my order had slipped her mind. She promised to remember my coffee next week.

It’s hard to be mad about that, so we chatted a bit, I told her to take care of herself, and went back to my car. She offered me some free coffee, which I politely declined, because one person’s misfortune should not be another’s opportunity.

That’s when things got really interesting. I got a text from the farmer where I had just picked up my meat and eggs, asking me to bring my bags back because they gave me the wrong order. So I lugged my 25 pound bag back.

When I arrived, I explained that I had gotten their text, and that I had not checked what was IN the bag, but the bag had my name on it, so if they needed me to, I could pull up my order and compare it to the contents.

No sooner had I gotten the words out than another woman, a customer, pointed at me and said, That woman took my bag!

I was taken aback by the accusation but said nothing, only checked my order to confirm whether it was correct or not. It was. All eight bacons and three chickens and lamb and sausage and whatever else had been on my list.

Again, I will spare you the details, but this woman was so adamant that I took her bag that the farmer who had just lost her husband, gotten stuck in traffic, and was now contending with this, shouted EVERYONE STOP TALKING! And for three seconds everyone did.

She looked at me. Is that your name on the bag?

Yes, it was.

She looked at the other woman. Is that your name on the bag?

No, it wasn’t. But customer woman didn’t seem daunted by this and kept insisting I had taken her bag while simultaneously repeating her name, which was clearly not written on it. At which point the farmer told her to shut up, instructed her helper to give me a free dozen eggs and told me to go home. I politely declined the eggs, because one woman’s stupidity should not be another’s misfortune, took my bag, and left, to the bizarre lamentations of this customer and her malfunction.

Sometimes people are so…. people.

I don’t know what came of it except to say I was glad I wasn’t the one who had to deal with it.

That was the point at which I would have gone and bought myself a dozen donuts if I’d been inclined to wait on another line, but since I wasn’t, I counted myself lucky and went home to make brunch.

It had been a disagreeable morning, but in the grand scheme of things, it had been a minor inconvenience. I didn’t love standing on line. I didn’t love trudging myself back and forth. I didn’t love the fact that in all this mayhem I’d lost my phone and had to frantically scour the market for its whereabouts before turning it up at another booth where someone had left it after finding it on the ground.

But I did get to go home with a bag full of food. I did get to go home to a husband who was still alive. I did get to go home with no chance of starving to death and the ability to scramble as many eggs as my heart desired. Somehow, I suspect, we can even figure out how to acquire a cup of coffee for the next six days.

I wasn’t sure what’s today’s word would be but it’s become fairly clear as I’ve written this: compassion.

The inconvenience to me today was insignificant compared to the suffering and tragedy that other people around me have had to endure. And the fact that some other people couldn’t figure that out was both astounding and disgraceful.

I suppose the complainers and crazies could have been dealing with their own lives, but sometimes you have to be able to put yourself second. Sometimes you have to let other people have worse lives than you, because sometimes they do.

Sometimes you have to set aside what you want and how you think your day should turn out and be a mite more compassionate toward others who are struggling with their own misfortunes.

The irony of this whole story is that the people who were struggling the most seemed to offer the most redemption.

Maybe it isn’t until we really feel the sting of hardship that we can be compassionate toward others. It’s unfortunate, really, because all we have on this earth is each other. Maybe the next time one is inclined to complain about another, we could remember that we don’t know what everyone’s lives entail, and maybe we could act with a modicum of compassion. And maybe when we do know what those lives entail, we could do that much better.

I extend my gratitude to the women who showed up today, who, in spite of their lives, came to offer something to the rest of us. As for the crazies and the complainers… the farmer put it perfectly. Shut up.

Photo: nobody starved to death. Sometimes I think eggs are nicer to each other than people are to each other.