It’s rare I find myself in a state of utter surreal disbelief that I have to wonder if I’ve somehow exited the confines of our universe and am somehow observing the interactions or people almost but not quite like ourselves in some bizzaro universe, replete with people almost but not quite as jaded and sad as our own. But today was one such day.
As I left work, I decided to stop in at Walmart to pick up a few intra-grocery trip items that we tend to run out of. Cereal, soda, milk, etc. In the soda aisle, I found myself soundly affirmed that my cynicism and jaded perspective was justified, and the wanton disregard for self as well as others I witnessed left me gobsmacked.
As a man, in his late twenties or early thirties, slim with nary a gray hair upon his head, reached for some chips, the young woman behind him objected. “You won’t buy her juice,” she said, pointing to the little girl in the shopping cart, “But chips are okay?.” He responded, “Look, if you’re going to do shit like this, I’ll have the divorce papers drawn up tomorrow.” “Do that, then,” she replied.
Then a silence, as they looked into each others eyes, devoid of passion, devoid of compassion, devoid of, well, everything, which buffeted me. I caught my breath. I stared at these two for what seemed like hours, but it was only a few seconds when they began to move again, as if reanimated. Eyes still lifeless, faces stoic as the Easter Island statues, the mother picked up her little girl out of the basket and walked away. The man turned towards me, and walked in the opposite direction of her, leaving behind the disarray in their basket.
Neither was mad. Neither looked as if they were suddenly carrying the weight of the world. Just a small sigh, and he strode past as if he had just been given new life. The mother, too, for that matter looked refreshed and relieved. Their relief was distressing. Relief without passion.
I know marriages end, and I don’t mean to say that this is always a bad thing, or that it is always the wrong decision. It was just this situation was so surreal, it got me thinking about more than just any old divorce. I also know that these two were not flippantly deciding their future over a bag of chips, and I also know that the may stay together. But to see the wave of relief at the mere thought was distressing enough. I’m not nearly so conservative as I used to be, but I still believe that people should stand behind their commitments. That if they promise to each other they’ll be there, well, dammit, they should be. Especially when they have a child.
Perhaps its naïvité speaking, but it just boggles my mind how such an insignificant event can be the final straw. How, even, they could have ever gotten married, had a child, and yet be so obviously happy for the thing to be over. I know that for me, should I ever find myself amidst divorce proceedings, I would be in another one of those surreal existential quandaries, wondering if this was actually happening. I imagine I would be a lot of things, none of them relieved.
Is this where we are? A throw-away culture, obsessed with today, ignorant and disillusioned by our parents, with throw-away values, throw-away promises, throw-away sincerity? Well, it’s all rubbish and it should be, well, thrown away. If this is us–our culture–I’m not so sure I want any part of it. Call me prudish or old fashioned if you will, but I’m going to stand by the idea that people mean something. That promises mean something. That life means something, and it’s about more than today. More than now. More than what I’m going to have for dinner.
Life’s about making a difference, no matter how big. About bettering yourself and others because in the end, that’s your legacy. What did you DO? What did you just toss away like so much garbage? Who did you leave in your wake, and who will remember you fondly? Who will pay it forward, and who will just toss you away like so much garbage?
In a land of toss-away philosophy, I suppose none of that matters. Well, it does to me. And it should to you, too.