dark times…

It was a dark time. 

Not the season – the season was bright and the days were getting warmer, long and lazy.  The trees were green and lush, the world around her was burgeoning in flowers and there were babies and kittens and lambs – new life seemed to be bursting forth everye babies and kittens and lambs – new chasing after ers and ottom of a creek bed after the water has been rushing over where she looked.  However, this only made Annie more aware that all that she felt was still, cool, and worn, like she was a stone in the bottom of a creek bed after the water has been rushing over it for decades.

Annie pulled up to the grocery store and parked in front.  Same store, different day.  She wasn’t pleased to see Mrs. Anderson’s van in the lot as well as she walked toward the front door. She knew that if she ran into her this shopping trip would take three times as long as it normally would.  Mrs. Anderson liked to talk and talk and talk.  Annie wanted to just get in and out of the store as quickly as possible today.

She entered the grocery store and the cool air surrounded her, she got a cart and began wheeling it toward the baked goods.  “Some cupcakes would be nice” she thought as she glanced over the selection.  She sighed as she noted there were only mini white cupcakes and no chocolate cupcakes whatsoever.  The chocolate cupcakes were infinitely better and mini cupcakes were just so much work – you had to eat two or three of them to even feel like you ate something.  Not that she had felt like eating anything lately anyway.  She grabbed two packages of the disappointing mini white cupcakes and put them in her cart. 

She turned her cart toward the vegetable section and she spied Mrs. Anderson and her son Jimmy Joe by the avocados.  Annie decided she would come back to the vegetable section a little later.  She headed down a nearby aisle and hummed along to the music coming over the loudspeaker.  One of the back wheels of the cart wobbled.

“Same old carts, different day,” Annie thought.  Sometimes it seemed like nothing ever changed – but then she obviously had.  She remembered a time when she would walk down these same aisles with joy and anticipation – planning for a family gathering or a dinner with friends.  Picking up some ingredients for a birthday cake or a bottle of wine with supper.  It seemed like a lifetime ago – who was that person that used to laugh so easily and had energy enough for three people?  It had been her – such a short time ago, really.  Before everything fell apart.  Before.

Annie sometimes felt like a ghost now – moving slowly and silently through her days.  She imagined herself drifting through those grocery store aisles.  A filmy, pale hand grasping cans of soup and bags of noodles.  How strange to feel only partly here.  And to not be able to admit to anyone the truth – not that anyone cared to hear – that sometimes she wished she weren’t here at all. 

She stopped her cart and looked at the selection of coffee.  What would be best?  Organic?  Dark Roast?  Breakfast Blend?  Folgers?  She picked up one of the bags of coffee, squeezed it slightly and breathed in the aroma.  It smelled like that coffee shop where she always used to meet her friend Rita back in college.  Such good memories they had there.  She wondered how Rita was doing – they hadn’t been in touch for decades.  She wondered if the coffee shop was still there or if it had turned into something sad – like a fast food place or a furniture rental shop.  She hoped not.  She liked to think of friends still gathering there and sharing stories over cups of coffee and scones, dreaming of the future and thinking deep thoughts. 

She put the coffee in her cart and continued down the aisle.  She wondered where Mrs. Anderson was in the store by now.  Annie looked up and noticed that the clock at the front of the store still wasn’t working.  “Same broken clock, different day.”  Annie sighed and checked the time on her cell phone.  She had to get moving a little quicker. 

Some cheese, some ground beef, a tub of ice cream and frozen juice. She was almost done and only had to slip over to the vegetable section now without running into…

“Well, Hi Annie!” said Mrs. Anderson as she appeared from behind a display.

Annie’s heart sank.  “Hi there, Bonnie,” Annie said and plastered on a smile.  Now she was stuck. 

Within moments Mrs. Anderson was telling Annie about how she needed to get some garlic bread because her cousins were coming over and she wasn’t sure which brand would be best because she had tried a certain kind and it hadn’t been very good….

Although Annie kept her eyes fixed on Mrs. Anderson and smiled and nodded dutifully her mind slowly drifted.  How could anyone possibly talk this much, she thought.  Then she made a mental list of the things she still had to get on the other end of the store and calculated how long it would take her.  She needed to think of a way to escape Mrs. Anderson.

Mrs. Anderson paused ever so briefly to catch her breath and Annie quickly said, “Bonnie, I am so sorry but I really have to get going.  Hair appointment!  See you on Sunday at church!”  She smiled and waved as she pushed her cart away and Mrs. Anderson looked slightly put out as she said, “Oh, well, okay – see you then, dear.”

Annie hurried toward the vegetable section.  She just needed to get some tomatoes and some lettuce, maybe some peppers.  Why was she even bothering with all of this?  It wasn’t like it mattered.  It wasn’t like any of this was going to make a bit of difference now.  It was too late, she was too late, all of this was too little, too late.  She thought about everything that had happened in the last months and wondered how she was going to get through it.  So many worries, just a different day.  Every stupid day.

Her head hurt.  Her eyes were stinging.  She knew it was going to happen.  She was going to burst into tears right here – in front of the cherry tomatoes.  Right here – in the store where everyone knew her, had known her since she was a child.  She considered just leaving the full cart behind and dashing to her car but heaven knows that would be the talk of the town if she did.  There was nothing in this town that wasn’t everyone’s business.  Same small town, different day. 

As her tears began to fall she felt an arm come around her shoulders. “Honey, let’s go get some coffee, okay?”  It was Mrs. Anderson.  “No, Bonnie”, said Annie –
“I have so much to do and I have to cook this perfect supper and I’m already so late…” But Mrs. Anderson said, “there is always time for coffee”.  She waved at her son to take Annie’s cart – “Jimmy Joe will make sure those get to your house, okay – so we have plenty of time to go and just get a cup of coffee.”

Mrs. Anderson propelled Annie out the door and down the sidewalk and into the coffee shop next door.  Annie sputtered, “Bonnie, really, I am fine.  And I seriously don’t have time.”

“You have time,” said Mrs. Anderson.  “Sit down.”  She motioned to a booth in the corner.  Annie went obediently and sat down.    She wasn’t sure whether to be put out at Mrs. Anderson’s bossiness or touched at her concern. 

Mrs. Anderson sat down across from her and as the waitress came toward them she said, “Two cups of coffee, honey, and two of those heavenly chocolate cupcakes.”  Then she turned her attention toward Annie.  She said, “I hate it when they are out of the chocolate cupcakes at the grocery store.”  Then she winked, “But they always have them here.”  She smiled as the waitress brought over the coffee and two perfect cupcakes.

“Now,” said Mrs. Anderson.  You look like you need a good cry, and maybe a listening ear.  And you have been looking like this for a while, dear – today isn’t the first time I’ve seen you moping around that grocery store.  Whatever is going on with you is none of my business but I know what it is like to suffer, and I know that sometimes it just helps to talk.  So.  Maybe I am wrong, but I’m just going to sit here and eat my cupcake and drink my coffee and not say a word.  And you can do the same or…feel free to talk.  I’ll listen.”

Annie looked out the window.  She saw two small girls running through a sprinkler in the yard across the street.  They were laughing so loud she could hear them all that way – even over the hum of the traffic going by.  Annie was so tired of feeling so bad.  It felt like joy and laughter were just distant memories – things that happened to other people these days, not her. 

She eyed Mrs. Anderson sitting there, sipping her coffee and then taking a bite of the cupcake.  It was strange to be in her presence without the constant chatter of her talking – so maybe it was to fill the silence, or maybe it was because Mrs. Anderson was right and Annie needed this…but Annie started to talk.  She talked, and cried, and talked some more.  She ate the chocolate cupcake and then ordered another.  And Mrs. Anderson listened.  Same old Spirit of the living God at work, mysteriously and truly, different day.

I Peter 4 reads, “Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.  Be steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.  And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace will restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.  To him be the power forever and ever.  Amen.”

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