Love and Cents: A Call for Introspection

I just needed copy paper. That’s all. I wasn’t looking for wisdom, seeking a path, or desiring to be part of a disgruntled community contemplating mob violence. I just needed copy paper. But, every writer can tell you a blank page is always the beginning of something.

This is how the world ends.

This is how the world ends.

Target was reasonably empty on this serene Monday afternoon, so they had two checkout clerks working. Both lines had 3 to 4 people waiting. In my line there was a woman who didn’t have children with her but the kid’s cereal (Count Chocula!), juice boxes, and snack packs indicated she had a some somewhere; a retired couple purchasing Christmas wrap for far away loved ones, me (paper, ink, Pepsi), and a college-aged young woman and her mother with a cart full of “guess who got a new apartment.”

Then a Balrog was released from the depths of the Customer Service Desk who began breathing fire across the front end in an unending rage. Well, okay – not really – but it seemed like that.

I Want My Discount!

I Want My Discount!

Cereal Woman was holding up the line. At first we just thought she’d mistaken her Smartphone for some kind of emergency flare. Turns out, she had given the phone to the clerk to scan because she had a coupon for 20% off of her cereal  – regularly $2.89 on sale for $2.50 (the fact I know that tells you just how loud this conversation was). She was complaining and shouting to see a manager because the Target computer gave her 50 cents off instead of 58 cents. She was being shorted 8 cents.

8 cents

8 cents

She argued and waved her phone, reading loudly (and repeatedly) that the coupon says it is good for 20% OFF THE REGULARLY PRICED CEREAL NOT THE SALE PRICE. Our line backed up, they pulled a clerk from the floor to open a new aisle, which new people piled into, leaving the four of us stuck in place or at the back of the line

After a full 5 minute argument, the manager decided the best thing to do in pursuit of world peace was to remove the cereal, re-scan it, hand enter the discount, etc. So we all waited some more while she found the cereal in her bags and the befuddled clerk attempted to correct the situation. Cereal Woman turned to the older lady who was next in line and said in jet plane landing volume, “Sorry about this. But I love my family and I will fight for every penny.”

I watched the older man dig in his pocket. I would have given anything for him to hand her a dime and say, “Here you go, move along.” Standing ovation – I guarantee. Alas, not to be.

She finally pulled her cart away from the register, and things started flowing. While the retired couple watched their Frosty papers get scanned, Cereal mom wheeled over to the snack bar, bought a personal pan pizza and a coke. “You’ve GOT to be kidding me,” the girl behind me sneered to her mother with a voice made equally of acid, judgment, and Altoids.

Minty Righteousness

                   Minty Righteousness

I paid for my paper, picked up my “salad of the day” (Caprese kale) and came back to the office consumed and distracted by the experience. How am I supposed to write a light romantic murder mystery when all I can think about is the fleeting meaning of 8 cents.

Now, before you get all mommy-bloggy, little-things-add-up, #itstheprinciple on me – hear me out. I don’t care about the time she cost us, I don’t care that she thought she was “saving money” by buying the most expensive, least nutritional foods ever, and I DO NOT CARE that she had a pizza for lunch. Everybody has the right to indulge. But her choices show us this was not really about money

What I care about – what is most on my mind – is that she thinks fighting for 8 cents is somehow evidence of her love, and she needed to affirm its value. She didn’t just reveal her vocal range, she showed us desperate need so many carry inside.

This wasn’t about greed, power, or the adult bullying that unfortunately happens to retail clerks every day – this was about need. The need to prove (to herself, most likely) that she loved her family and the mistaken belief that money (any amount) was a way to do it.

Cereal Woman is not alone. We are bounding into a season famous for “things as love” (I sprung for iPhones again this year), for “time spent on things as love” (I spent 4 hours in line for that flat screen for Bobby), for conflict as love (That guy tried to get the last Non-Stop Chattering Elmo, but I beat him to it), and for “manipulation as love” (You can take the kids to their OTHER grandma for Easter. I want my babies home for Christmas. Papaw has a cough. This could be his last year, you know…).

It is time to reflect on the simple, beautiful truth that only love is love.

We love. We love our spouses, kids, parents, friends, pets – we love. In a culture so full of fear and marketing we have lost the ability to be confident in our love and let it be enough. Love is supposed to be lived. It doesn’t need to be packaged, and it doesn’t need to be proven. It just needs to be there.

As you meditate, pray, work, laugh or just think about the beings in your life that you love so well – take a moment to breathe deep, relax, and just feel good. Feel your love for them surround you, giving you priceless, thing-less, timeless, peace.

Sit with your love. Walk with it. Live in it.  If you find the center of your love and trust it over the pressures, ads, voices and Instagram likes – you’ll never need to “prove” it again.

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