I’m an old-school PCC member, which means I bag my own groceries in my own canvas bags. I like to make efficiency games of routine activities and bagging groceries is a classic example. As I line up my purchases on the conveyor band, I start with the things I want at the bottom of the bag and end with the eggs and bread. Not only that but I make sure the bar codes are visible so that even the cashier becomes a part of my efficiency game. This isn’t something I’ve ever talked about; I just do it for fun.
For the past year or so, one of the cashiers has caught onto my game and plays with me. She’s the fastest cashier in the store. I’ll get in her line even if it’s the longest. We’ve hardly spoken beyond the standard check out line Q & A of, “Do you want cash back?” I know her name is Joan because she wears a nametag. I’m a smiler, she’s not. I’m a chatter, she’s not. But on the issue of check-out line efficiency, we seem to share a brain.
At one level it’s a race and we both know it. To keep it fair, she always waits, unsmiling, adjusting her wrist braces (yes, she takes her job seriously), until the prior customer clears the counter. But the moment I step into that spot, it’s on. Since the heaviest items tend to be easily scanned things in jars, cans and bottles the opening of the game is a flurry of hands, where I struggle to keep up, but as she gets to the “hard” produce, like melons, root vegetables, and apples, she’s forced to slow down slightly to weigh and type in codes. That gives me just the opportunity I need to swipe my debit card and begin punching buttons. When it’s a multi-bag shopping trip, she gains on me during the change-overs, but I know the “soft” produce, like bananas, peaches, and grapes will give me the breathing room to catch up.
Yesterday, my game with Joan was as good as it gets. We finished simultaneously, in record time. I couldn’t help myself. I broke our unofficial protocol and spoke, “What a team!”
She answered, “That was fun.” And as we looked into one another’s faces I saw the corner of her mouth twitch, which I take as her version of a smile.
On my recent manly weekend in the mountains, I got into a similar, unspoken flow with Dave, who I had just met the day before. We were unloading logs from the pick up truck and tossing them into the cellar of the cabin via the old coal shoot. Dave and I positioned ourselves on either side of the tailgate, taking turns flinging our logs as deeply into the dark hole as we could. We started off joking around, but before long we were in a rapid-fire rhythm, boom-boom-boom-boom, punctuated by grunts and sweat. I entirely lost myself in our game. My whole world for those 20 minutes was firing logs as accurately as I could, while making sure to stay in time with Dave, or we would have otherwise been flinging logs into the backs of one another’s heads. We didn’t speak about the game, but we took up the same positions with each subsequent pick-up load, and found that same cooperative rhythm.
When we were done for the day, Dave said to me, “That was intense.”
And I foreshadowed Joan’s line from yesterday, “That was fun.”
These are the moments I feel most alive; these times when I find myself wholly attuned to another person, and they’re wholly attuned to me. There’s an intimacy in those moments that can never be achieved through words. I’ve often found those moments playing team sports, dancing, doing physical labor, making love, and occasionally while creating communal art. It’s the intimacy of doing.
I teach at a cooperative preschool because of those moments. There is a beautiful, nearly wordless rhythm that emerges among the adults on our good days. The work of running our classroom, teaching our kids, flows like a dance or a song. It happens when we can all manage for a few hours to set aside our stresses and concerns, get down on our knees, and pour everything we are into the children. We don't always get there, but when we do, even if only for a few minutes, it's everything.