I recently got a job at a big store. I’m not sure whether it’s technically a supermarket, a department store, or some kind of superdepartmentmarketstore, but we sell a whole lot of things. I work in the produce department, so I don’t get to see most of those things. I mostly stay in an enormous, open area of the store filled with peppers and bananas. I did, however, get to strike out into the wild reaches of the numbered aisles when I got a call that a customer needed help in the bulk food section.
For some reason that utterly escapes me, bulk food is lumped in with the produce department’s jurisdiction, even though it’s all the way out in aisle 7, so I struck out past the cooled cases of ground beef and Lunchables to offer my friendly assistance to the poor beleaguered customer. I turned the corner into aisle 7 and saw the source of the call: an old lady with black hair, her hand shoved into a plastic bulk food bag like a glove, digging around in a bin of peanut squares. I got her attention and asked her how I could help her today, and she explained everything in minute detail.
I eventually gathered that the two main points of her problem were 1) that she had read in the paper that we were phasing out our bulk food in favor of prepackaged candy and wanted to know when it would be gone so that 2) she could make sure to stock up on Old Dominion peanut squares which were, apparently, necessary to her very survival. Seriously, she already had seven and a half pounds of them in her cart when I arrived on the scene, and she was busy scooping out more with her bag-gloved hand. She was adamant about the superior quality of Old Dominon peanut squares over all other peanut candy (especially that worthless peanut brittle) and she was fixated on the fact that soon we might not sell them any more. To me, they were just square shaped blocks of nuts, utterly unremarkable. To her, they were a really big deal, something that could totally ruin her entire day.
At first I was shocked at how worked up this lady was about peanut squares, but then I realized something. We all have our peanut squares, those little things that really don’t matter much until we start to fixate on them and let them sap our joy. At my job, there are a lot of them. For example, our in-store radio that plays a limited selection of music and an even more limited (and mind-numbingly repetitious) set of ads. It seems like almost every day the same song comes on at some point, some heavily autotuned guy asking me if I be-LEE-YEEVE in life after love, as if he had mistaken me for Dr. Phil and decided to unload all of his relationship problems on me in the form of a cheesy pop song.
Then there are the pears. Every five or ten minutes, one of the five possible “fresh pear tips” cycles through over the PA system, and every time it’s the exact same impossibly chipper woman saying the exact same words about just how awesome pears are and how you ought to eat them at every possible opportunity. It’s gotten to the point where I can quote most of the tips verbatim and with perfect inflection, and the URL “usapears.org/tips” will likely haunt my dreams for years to come.
It would be so easy to build those and the dozens of other little annoyances like them that show up in my everyday life into huge frustrations that cause me a lot of misery and frustration, and that’s how my mind naturally wants to respond. What right do that singer guy and his weird pear-loving lady friend have to annoy me with their voices? Why can’t these potatoes just stay put and quit sliding around when I’m trying to stack them? What, I have to go to work at five in the morning? Outrage! I deserve better. They’re not selling my peanut squares anymore? Well, don’t expect me to be happy with peanut brittle.
Are any of those things really that important, though? That life-after-love song is only a few minutes long and then it’s gone again. It seems awfully self-centered and petty to let it bother me. And besides, they play a lot of songs that I like, too. Why don’t I fixate on the just-as-frequent moments when ABBA’s “Take a Chance On Me” comes on and I practically dance through the next three minutes of my job? Or the satisfaction I get when those potatoes are finally all in the right place and my supervisor comes by to compliment me on how nice the display looks? Why not laugh off the pear lady and the autotune guy whenever they arrive, turn them into a joke and get a laugh out of imitating their swoopy singing and bubbly blabbering? It seems to me that the only reason peanut squares and potato stacks weigh on us so much is because we let them. Maybe all it would take to relieve the pressure is a change of perspective, to look up at all of the gifts God has given us and the plans he has for us, to see the peanut squares as the tiny, insignificant nuisances that they really are, and to move on with the incredible blessing that is life. Maybe I’m just an incurable optimist, but I’d like to think that’s one of my best features. After all, a life lived on the bright side is a life that can in turn brighten others’, and that’s the kind of life I can be-LEE-YEEVE in.