Tag Archives: awareness


Driving a friend to the south end of town to look for an appropriate shower gift for someone else, I am in the rare circumstance of being in a traditional retail store. Once inside, we agree to go our separate ways and meet up a little later.

Wandering the aisles and enjoying all of the beautiful displays, I find myself standing in the middle of a large selection of handbags. I cannot help but pick up an exquisitely designed bag. The handbag is in medium brown with an alligator-skin pattern. The hardware is minimalistic and shiny gold. The supple material of this mid-sized purse yields easily to the touch and has a tender, “authentic” feel. Upon further inspection, I see that the bag is labelled vegan. Thus, the purse is probably made from a synthetic material derived from petrochemicals.


Because of my early exposure to a wide array of petrochemicals, experience has taught me to be careful about purchasing petroleum-based or plastic products. If any new products of this ilk are purchased, they spend weeks sunning on the edge of our back deck or in the garage to be outgassed before entering the house. My visual-aesthetic sense gets the best of my logical knowing, and I do not put the handbag down, opting instead to cross the large retail space to find my shopping companion for a second opinion.

The store is crowded, humming. Amid the background hum as I leave the section with handbags, I overhear a gentleman shopping with his wife remark, “Look at all of these purses. I had no idea there would be so many to choose from.” Style, color, size, material, brand. The array of choices in one department alone can be overwhelming.

Meeting midway between each of the departments where we had been browsing, my shopping companion and I compare the items we have found. Our conversation is not only practical, but philosophical as well. We ask questions about how we make choices as consumers—the internal and external drives behind what and why we buy.

Considering the vegan handbag in hand, I begin with an internal consideration, “There are my own issues of chemical sensitivity to consider.” Then, switching to an external consideration, I muse, “I have vegan friends who would be in full support of  my choosing this handbag over one made of traditional leather.  And, with the leather handbags here, there is no way for me to determine, without a lot of research, whether or not the makers have used a vegetable tanning process—not to mention issues of labor.”

Various concerns are raised as we talk about the advantages and disadvantages surrounding my potential purchase. From experience, I know a well-made leather handbag lasts me ten to twelve years. And, although this bag has the look and feel of leather, I also know that, from a materials perspective, it would last no more than two to three years, because plastics crack. Also, stark images of this vegan  bag ending up in the stomach of some cetacean are adding to my desire to take the bag back to its place of display.

“Why aren’t any designers making excellently crafted fabric bags with high-end hardware?” I wonder aloud.

“Why don’t you just get that bag and see how you feel tomorrow?  You can always return it,” my friend offers me a quick solution on our way to the checkout.

Continuing our conversation while in line, I voice some of my ongoing thoughts, “In addition to the issues of manufacture, I am thinking about end-point disposal. With a leather bag, assuming a rare cotton lining, I can actually denude a bag of its hardware, dig a pit in my garden and, over time, everything would return to the earth. With the leather bag scenario, the only issue, then, would be the non-biodegradable material from the bag’s stitching.”

Purchases in hand, we walk out to the parking lot.

At home, I place the new bag on the edge of my bed, then, close the door of my room. In the kitchen, I prepare dinner for my family. Three hours later, after dinner has been enjoyed and dishes have been done, I return to my bedroom to turn down my covers. Opening the door to the room, I take three steps back because the fumes from the new handbag are completely overwhelming. Calling my husband to get the offending item out of the bedroom, he appears to remove the item. Walking the new bag out to the garage, it is hung from the end of a metal, garage-door track, awaiting its return voyage to the store.

Spiritual Scars II

Standing in a very long check-out line to make several purchases, I overhear pieces of several conversations between the woman in front of me and a crew of her closest friends. The woman has recently relocated to escape a situation of domestic abuse.

Pieces of her story hang, unfiltered, amid the air of the retailer’s big box.  She is in town because a friend paid for her transportation, as well as offering her a place of refuge. Her former boyfriend, it seems, had an “addiction” to a string of old girlfriends and prostitutes, though this woman had had hopes of reforming him. The stitches she needed in her face caused her to give up her dreams of reform and seek the help of an old friend.


At one point in our long wait in the slow moving line at a cash register, a woman behind me asks whether or not we are mother and daughter, out on a shopping trip.

I reply, “No. No, we are not.”

Yet, the young woman in front of me could be my daughter, she is young enough, or your daughter or our daughter because her narrative, in many ways, makes her everyone’s daughter.

At one junction in our long wait and in between the young woman’s brief  conversations, a scruffy looking man enters the store. The young woman turns around to face me, asking in an urgent whisper, “Did you see that? That man has a gun.”

“No, I did not see it. Where was it on his person?” I ask, leaning in to reply.

“It was tucked into the edge of his jeans, by his side.”

“If that is what you saw, then you should report it,” I caution.

“I can’t. I am too scared.”

“I did not see what you saw. But, if you are sure and remain concerned, then it should be reported.”

With resolve entering her voice, she says, “With everything that has been in the news lately, I have to say something.”

The young woman motions to the man bagging purchases and whispers a description of the customer to him. Soon, the store’s security guard has been alerted. A search of the immediate area ensues.

Then, in an uncomfortable series of minutes, everyone in line observes as a very sinewy and hardscrabble of a man goes through a brief search. The man is not happy about the invasion of his privacy or the public spectacle. The “gun” is revealed to be an oddly shaped cellphone case attached to the man’s belt.

When the search is over, the store employees apologize to the older man, as he collects–in palpable consternation–the jacket  he had to remove. The tension around the scene begins to dissipate.

Meanwhile, our line has continued to move and the young woman has completed making her purchases. As I take my turn at the cash register, I hear the store security man and the bagger attempt to lighten the tension in the air by making several inappropriate remarks about the young woman’s inability to judge situations and about her “seeing things.”

Turning to face both men, I break my silence to explain that the young woman who reported the incident had just left a situation of domestic violence. And, given her experiential profile and the news lately, she had every right to be concerned about her personal safety in a public place. Her perception of the situation was completely understandable.

This narrative  reminds us to remain compassionate and to foster a respectful attitude toward our very singular perspectives on life, because–as strangers–we never really know what is packed away in another person’s travelling bags.



Very late one Friday afternoon on a cold day while driving near the center of town, a friend who is accompanying me on errands comments on the twenty-five-plus people congregated with their bags near the edge of a parking lot.

“They are homeless,” I reply.

“But so many?” my companion asks in disbelief.

“Yes. They are probably waiting for a ride to a local shelter. Because of the profoundly Christian nature of this community, there are several shelters operating here. People in this area take serving the homeless quite seriously,” I explain.

“But where do they go during the day time?”

“Many of them spend their time among the various library branches. From what I have been able to discern, most of them are looking for ways to change their circumstances. They search for jobs, try to reconnect with family who might take them in or attempt to take care of more serious medical concerns via email and telephone.”

“That is an awful lot of people,” my companion comments.

“Yes it is.”

The Work

Standing behind a newly plowed mound of snow, I wait outside in the cool air for my friend, Adam. We have an informal appointment to go to the coffeehouse together to catch up on things.  Adam is excited to tell me about the new woman he is seeing.


Driving up in front of me, Adam slows his vehicle to a stop. Then, quickly leaning across the inside of his car, he opens the passenger’s side door.

Taking a large step across the freshly plowed bank of snow, I approach the car in two more steps only to face a wall of profound grief. Sliding into the passenger’s seat, I close the door swiftly behind me to conserve the interior’s heat.

Turning to Adam, I ask, “What is up with this wall of grief?”

Adam gazes at me intently, while shrugging his shoulders and shifting the vehicle into gear. We begin to move.

“Don’t you feel it?” I ask rather impatiently, trying to cut through to the heart of the matter. Adam is normally a focused, chipper, can-do man with a highly and amazingly developed sense of emotional attunement. It surprises me to find him at a loss of awareness about the sea of sorrowful emotion by which he is being completely walled off.

“Where is it coming from?” I ask yet another question on the same topic. “There is something wrong. Your essential Adam-ness is being injured.”

Finally Adam responds, “I am not sure what you are picking up on.”

Taking a slower approach, I attempt to explain what I am experiencing, “Normally, when we get together there is a certain ‘Adam-ness’ about you and your personal energy. It is kinetic, generally happy, quite focused and aware. Today when you opened the car door, it was like hitting a great barrier of grief that was smothering your essential being—a profound sadness is permeating everything. This is not you. This is not who you are. The profound sorrow is not yours.  Where is it coming from?”

In a brief conversation, Adam describes some of the trauma his new girlfriend has experienced in the past.  He also talks about wanting to help her get to a better place by holding some of the grief for her.

“It doesn’t work that way, Adam,” I explain, shaking my head emphatically.

“Can’t I even help her just a little bit?” Adam intones, “—Emotionally?”

“No. The grief will not leave until your new girlfriend makes the decision to divest herself of this old, emotional baggage. She may need help going through the grieving process, but you cannot do her work for her. You cannot carry any of this grief and expect her to make any progress—not even ‘a little bit,’ as you say.  She must do the work on her own. It is the only way.”