This is the story of an exploding bag of potato chips and the worse possible response.
I was pissed. I’ll admit that upfront. I’ve been stewing about something from my past for oh, going on about eight years now.
(I know how to hold a grudge. And the thing is: I’m holding the grudge against myself. Pretty smart, huh?)
Anyway, let’s shove that under the carpet for now and get to the good part of the story.
There I am, churning over my resentments while trolling the grocery store for junk food to make myself feel better.
I come upon a family-sized bag of Wavy Lays potato chips. Yes! This is going to be awesome. Add a little sour cream and ranch dip and I’m good to go.
But then, then, something really bad happens. First, I should mention, it feels these days as though I’m holding my sanity together with packing tape and paperclips…and a thin thread of optimism. (This goes back to that eight-year long resentment.)
So when the child at the checkout stand botches the bagging of my groceries I. Am. Upset.
My bag won’t sit upright. The Kleenex boxes are all crooked, because they’re sitting on top of the cat food cans, which were thrown in willy-nilly instead of neatly stacked, and the whole thing resembles a fallen stack of building blocks. Hence, the potato chips don’t have room to nestle, and…
…they keep falling out of the bag! (You can see why I’m so upset.)
I pull my cart out of the check stand and dock it a few feet away. I’m going to show these people how groceries should be bagged, dammit. (A place for everything and everything in its place!)
Kleenex on the bottom, cat food on the side, chips on the top. How hard can it be?
Well…I just can’t seem to make it all fit properly. As hard as I try, I’m making the whole situation worse. By now, I’ve about HAD IT. So I give up completely, and shove the chips, with reckless disregard for breakage, into the shopping bag.
And that’s when the Wavy Lays explode, loud as a gunshot, echoing through the aisles, past the frozen foods, all the way to the Bakery Department.
And the chips go flying.
Now I. Am. REALLY. Pissed. And mortified. I have to hold on to my anger, though, to keep myself from succumbing to total humiliation.
At this point, I have a few choices:
- Calmly apologize and help clean up the mess
- Sit on the floor and cry
- Charge out of the store with my head down
You can guess which choice I make. Really though, it feels as though the choice was made for me, before the bag even broke, by the same restless freak who has been spinning my mind for decades.
Here’s a truth: I love being angry. It’s such a juicy, self-righteous feeling. Even as anger thrashes its way through the pastoral fields of my brain, crushing everything in sight, I’m secretly enjoying that sweet, hot feeling of indignation.
Anger is a tricky thing, though. It has a way of feeding on itself, stoking itself into full-on rage…and believe me, nobody wants to be in that fallout zone. (Just ask my ex-husband.)
Here’s another truth: I tend to be a pretty happy-go-lucky person. I was born with an attitude of optimistic smiley-hood. It’s how I navigate life, and cope with what I perceive to be an unjust world.
Underneath all the goofy lightheartedness, however, a volcano of fury simmers and roils.
Which is fine, right? Who doesn’t feel a little rage now and then?
So now you understand: It could be no other way. In the split second it takes me to recover from the shock of the Wavy Lays explosion, my mind is decided:
I put my head down, pretend it didn’t happen, and charge out of the store.
Yes, people are looking at me with shock and amusement. Why? Because I’m not just walking out of the store with my head down. No, as I march from one end of Fred Meyer to the other…past the long row of check stands, past the customer service desk, past the home décor, the electronics section, and the garden department…
…I’m leaving a trail of potato chips in my wake.
I am now barreling to the exit as fast as my remaining dignity will allow. And what do I find when I finally get outside? I’ve walked out the wrong door.
My car is parked as far as possible away from where I’m standing, on the opposite side of the building.
So now I’m trailing potato chips outside––on the sidewalk, around the corner, down the length of the building, around another corner, and thank God, there’s my car!
At this point, my seething anger gives way to humiliation. I’m not as embarrassed about what others think of my bizarre behavior, as I am of my own shortcomings.
How did I get this angry? This crazy? This publicly obnoxious?
I have tools to deal with anger:
- Meditation (The Science of the Mind)
- If I start my day with a meditation–deep breaths, stillness and a slowing of my hamster wheel of my mind–I can live in the eye of the storm, and face whatever comes my way with some amount of grace.
- One of my favorite meditations is the metta bhavana, the practice of loving-kindness, benevolence, amity, and interest in others’ wellbeing. It’s very powerful medicine.
- Surrender (The Practice of Letting Go)
- I’ve learned over the years that there are certain things I cannot change: the weather, men, current interest rates, crappy grocery baggers, and bad drivers, to name a few. So what’s the point of raging against them?
- I do have a choice, however, over how I feel, what I think, how I behave, and how I choose to react to outside circumstances.
- Detachment (The Art of Witnessing)
- Making good choices (surrendering to what I cannot control) is easier when I’m calm, grounded and centered (see Meditation above).
- If I can detach from my emotions, and watch myself from a distance–as if I’m watching a character in a movie–then my emotions don’t hold sway.
- Witnessing myself makes it easier to practice compassion, to forgive, and to let go of my need to be right.
But meditation, surrender and detachment take effort and commitment. Indignation and Resentment, on the other hand, are easy. They are familiar and trustworthy friends.
Along with their first-cousin, Blame, they are just waiting in the wings, poised to rush in when things don’t go my way. They are particularly restless when I’ve been stuffing things I don’t want to face. Things like, feelings. Things like, asking for what I want. Things like, forgiveness and grace.
These things don’t come easy for me. But they’re in there, somewhere, under the things that are under the carpet.
Something odd occurs to me as I stare at the unruly pile of chips in my shopping cart, feeling the full weight of the wreckage I’ve left in my wake.
When everything goes wrong, when I don’t get a do-over, when there’s no one else to blame:
Eat a chip off the top of the stack.
And do better next time.