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  • Writer's pictureAusten Hayes

Accepting What Is

"Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune."

~William James

Paying for my groceries I glanced at the woman doing the bagging. I was taken by her age, her condition - she was grey, thin, bent. I felt a pang of guilt watching her do this for me - guilt mixed with sadness and confusion.

Why was this frail woman working at such a job? Because she wanted to? Was it her way of staying engaged? Did she need the money? Was she alone, this her only connection to the world?

Quietly, almost in a whisper, not wishing to jar this delicate presence...I asked, "Do you like your job?" She lifted her head, the change in position emphasizing her sharp, angular face, light from the window revealing thin, dark skin barely covering deep sockets and lids surrounding cornflower blue eyes. "I don't mind", she said.

What did she mean? Was it that even though lifting half-gallon milk cartons and plastic containers filled with detergent could take every bit of energy she had, she was grateful for the opportunity to work? Was she saying it's not as bad as it looks? That she's in complete acceptance of what is? That she had no choice...? How could this be o.k.?

I thanked her, saying she made each shopper's day a little better, a little brighter.

As I walked to my car I reminded myself not to assume anything. Maybe my imagination was turning her story into something awful. Maybe her life was a good one. Maybe she felt not only grateful, but happy to come to work in a giant store with so much activity. I will never know.

One way or the other, her response suggested a type of acceptance that shamed me into questioning my own. Later, as I looked into the bag, I took note at how well the packing was done - neat, orderly, heavy items on the bottom, produce carefully placed on top, every item snug in its own corner. Arranged by someone who cared.

Yesterday morning a guest on NPR's Ted Radio Hour, reflecting on happiness, said "...the happiest people are those able to accept life as it is...not as they wish it would be." And, that, he said, included accepting loss, accepting conditions of poor health and lack of money - all of it. A Buddhist practitioner would say it's useless to want things to be different than they are.

We reject the idea of acceptance, confusing it with resignation - giving up, giving in. The fear - if you're too accepting you won't reach higher, get stronger, smarter, richer. The world will be more unjust than it already is.

Perhaps the small, elderly woman, standing in stark contrast to the large, energetic, sometimes aggressive market, saying gently, "I don't mind" - was not giving up or giving in. Not at all. Perhaps she was doing the best bagging she could do - while choosing to waste no time 'minding'.

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