It is the routine you hate, and it is the routine that will save you. It struck me walking into my local market. It is small, and we almost lost it entirely last year. How would we eat without it? There is already food in the house. I can cook anything with anything. Bag of cole slaw, 4 eggs, packet of McCormick’s brown gravy mix? Egg Fu Yong.
We live by heat index in summer. Actual temperature is a launch pad. 93 today established the baseline for a misery velocity of 102. It is, as we say, close.
Why am I at this market then? Why am I out here dabbling in risk, in conditions that only remind me how many more of these days we have to endure until rumors of fall begin when the dew point and the current temperature drift apart?
I feel safe here. I have since the first day I returned wild-eyed from Detroit like a street-corner prophet ranting about the coming plague. It was worse there first, and now it is worse everywhere equally.
I pick up some summer squash, 2 heirlooms dripping. I have friends who work here, but as a customer I think of them all like that. It occurs to me I come here almost every afternoon because it is deeply grounding. They try to out-nice me, but I have been alone, physically, all day and my niceness is welling up and oozing like the tomatoes.
Do I want to round up for charity today? They ask. Do I want to round up for charity today? Do you want to feel a shiver in November and pull on a wool sweater you stole (He knew of course) from your grandfather’s closet the last time you saw him, smelling of tung oil?
I talk to them the whole time they ring me up. They must get this all day. The weather. Who will win the helicopter ride. Things to do with burdock root. Anything. Every word is a coded message passing coins of pain and threads of fear that we share when we see someone eye to eye.
I wish them a nice day and within it is a surge of hope, gratitude, encouragement, a hearty clap on the shoulder to say if I must die I die with you my friend on the battlefield of common decency and the courage of the trench-digger, not the rushing bayonets. It probably just sounds like have a nice day to them, but when they say it to me it I load it with everything I need to keep digging.
The routine is so familiar you may not see it for what it is. Shining shield of silver. Oaken ramparts. Stiletto in your boot. Trojan Horse you hide within shoulder to shoulder with your lean legionnaires awaiting darkness and a storm from the east to cover your attack.
It feels like madness, but it is the opposite of madness. Madness is deciding after one hundred and sixty-eight days of survival that one-hundred and sixty-nine is too many so you bolt for daylight clawing out of the trench and run screaming headlong into the relief and certainty of quitting.
Don’t you do it. The routine is working.