Last week it arrived. Our monster refrigerator. Once I adjusted to LED overload, its wingspand, and the ice maker’s whir, I was off to buy perishable food.
First stop, Trader Joe’s and a half hour later I’ve reached the cart’s capacity.
I push toward the checkout, and lucky me, only one person in line ahead of me.
The cashier hands the customer his receipt.
My turn. I push the cart. Glance back.
Behind me, a woman holding a few items. No basket handheld or otherwise.
Go ahead, I tell her. Seemed the obvious thing to do.
“Oh, my! Thank you! This lovely woman has done such a nice thing,” she said to the cashier. “Thank you so much!”
“Of course, no problem,” I mangaged feeling overwhelmed by her gratitude.
The cashier had no response. I hope because this is the norm.
Off she went, thanking me again.
My Trader Joe’s shopping lady popped into my mind later this week as I read chapter 5, Find the Humanity in Ourselves and in Others, of Sara K. Ahmed’s Being the Change.
One of the activities in the chapter asks students to define their “Universe of Obligation” to realize and all the people who we would stand up for; those folks we’d be there in times of need. Identify them and in the end realize the size of our universe. See how inclusive it is. It starts with those who are the ones you’d be there for no matter what: your family. And then add in those who are your friends, your colleagues, the people in your community. The intent is not to rank groups or individuals but to realize who you are connected to in terms of responsibility and trust.
Doing this exercise was hard. Not that I couldn’t do it. It was the realization that my universe felt so small. The world feels close. I read. I pay attention. But who I am proximal to is tiny.
I live, shop, and work around people who are a lot like me. By being aware and open, it’s easy to move a complete stranger, like my Trader Joe’s shopping friend, into my circle of obligation. But what about those who are outside my proximal and socio economic space? How I extend my universe? These questions made the last few chapters of Ahmed’s book hard. The concept that we, all of us are in this together. What happens to one, effects all. That’s the idea. And yeah, I got it, but actively doing it, day to day. That takes purposeful action.
Perhaps it back to being aware and open. By making a practice of noticing, asking questions and for other’s opinions. By listening and connecting our day to day encounters to what is happening in the world. By reaching out and trusting that person, in line or behind the counter is a part of your Universe of Obligation.