I remember the first time I felt like I was rich.
Standing in the check out line at the grocery store I realized I hadn’t mentally added everything up to make sure I stayed on budget, I just put what I wanted in the cart willy-nilly.
And I was shopping at Heinen’s, a “more expensive” Cleveland grocery that met a lot of our vegetarian needs cheaper than Whole Foods.
Heinen’s was the store my husband grew up with but I struggled with shopping there because they have a policy that you leave your cart in the store, take a number, and then drive up and they put your groceries in the car for you.
I’m sure this keeps the carts in good shape, helps the parking lot be less insane, and makes the elderly, infirm, pregnant and exhausted feel grateful, but I was none of those things.
I couldn’t wrap my mind around it and so I would carry all the bags to my car in one awkward, often painful trip to avoid making the workers wait on me.
I carried my own bags for years from some misguided idea about solidarity mixed with guilt over being able to afford shop there in the first place.
Over time I came to notice and understand my visceral reactions that make me feel “rich” or “poor”.
Wealth is relative and external comparisons are imprecise at best. I’ve written before about how comparisons are usually rigged to make us feel either inferior or superior, but feeling rich is different somehow.
I am still frugal in a lot of ways and can pinch a penny until it pinches back, but buying whatever food I want still feels indulgent. It’s not like I’m buying caviar, truffles and $50 bottles of wine, rather it is the sensation of being able to choose food without restraint.
I feel rich, and privileged and happy walking through a farmers market knowing I can buy things because they are beautiful.
I fall in love with peppers and leeks and fresh dug carrots. I can spend an excessive amount of time choosing from 7 kinds of lettuces and heirloom tomatoes. I want the eggs from the organic, patchouli-smelling hippy that puts out pictures of his happy chickens, and olives from the man who spends 6 months of each year in Greece on his family farm. I want to sample and buy the expensive cheeses from the tiny boutique creamery run by two sisters.
Unfortunately my bougie love of shopping for food that inspires me has been completely wiped out during the COVID-19 safety measures. And thats more than ok, its outstanding. I would eat only frozen vegetables 😦 for the rest of my life if it meant no one else died from the virus.
And I know how rich I am because I can stay home.
Now, as we continue to struggle with adapting to a reality shaped by SARS-CoV-2 (it’s real name by the way), I see more and more people expressing gratitude for health care workers and deep appreciation for the wage workers who keep the groceries running and deliver the take-out.
It makes me hopeful that we will soon have open discussions about the historic and current systems that perpetuate marginalization, oppression and gross inequity in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
And I continue to wrestle with the ways that I want to communicate about these tough topics when folks are under profound levels of stress. Maybe that makes it an even better time?
Meanwhile, I stay home and walk around my neighborhood – masked and very distant! – taking pictures of whatever is in bloom to share with friends on Instagram, and remind myself there are many ways to feel rich.