Think About This Next Time You’re Standing In A Line

Dennis Tang
Dennis Tang

I’m in line at Whole Foods, buying more sushi than one might find humanly possible, but we won’t talk about that. There are probably 10 or so people ahead of me and the guy at the checkout counter who’s sporting a full-on mullet appears to be new, because he’s having some issues. I can feel a little impatience creeping in, which I believe to be my and most everyone’s default, but I remember what I’ve taught myself to know to be true – that I could treat this line like it’s a downright spiritual experience if I tried to, that I don’t really have anywhere to be, and most importantly, that the fact that I had to wait a few extra minutes in a line at Whole Foods won’t matter in a year, or a month, or possibly even tomorrow; I won’t even remember it.

Meanwhile, behind me, a Manhattan Beach mom in yoga pants is sending her two kids to stand in separate lines to see which goes fastest and a guy on his phone is fairly livid explaining this line situation to someone very patient on the other end.

When I get up to the counter, the checkout guy sheepishly apologizes to me for the line. “It’s okay,” I tell him, “It’s just a line, I’d rather not let something so small upset me,” and he smiles huge because maybe I’m the first person who’s said that to him today.

“Exactly! We can’t control what happens but we can control how we react,” he offers.

I nod and my smile back might be just as big – “That’s the mantra,” I say. As he hands me my receipt, he tells me that I’m on my way to inner peace, and I laugh and can feel the guy behind me – now off the phone – cross his arms over his chest in egotistic defiance.

I go home, eat more sushi than is humanly possible, but we won’t talk about that, and go to bed.

And over a month later, I remember this interaction.

It’s left me wondering why I remember it, why something so small has stayed with me so heavily. Was it simply because it veered from the norm, because it was a more novel waiting-in-line-for-15-minutes experience?

Was it because this was a moment of true connection, a moment of the most basic and yet simultaneously meaningful of human understanding?

Was it because I’d just experienced a true connection with someone with a mullet? (I have to admit that a little snap judgment shot off in my head as fast as taking a photograph when I first saw him.)

Maybe it’s because it helped to further loosen an old, tightly wound worldview, chipping away at a damaging mindset and making more space for the more positive alternative, that we can choose how we perceive the world and how we perceive our days.

Maybe it’s a little bit of all of those.

I don’t like lines just as much as the next person, but I feel pretty adamant that if we take the time to be more conscious and aware, and if we allow ourselves to slow down, we might be able to change our whole perception of the things we usually tend to think of as debilitating to our day. Waiting in a line sucks; traffic sucks; being on hold on a phone call with Verizon where they’re playing broken up elevator music sucks; doing anything at all at the DMV sucks. But how can we change our perception of these situations? How can we look for a silver lining? What can we do to make those experiences not suck? There has to be something.

After all, while we’re standing in that line, we’re thinking – about what we’ll read when we get home, about that foreboding meeting we have at work tomorrow, about the person we love.

While we’re standing in that line, our bodies are holding us up and taking us forward.

While we’re standing in that line, we’re breathing, in and out, again and again and again, alive.

Is there anything more amazing?TC mark

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