By Jean Fitzpatrick
We’ve finally switched to reusable grocery bags. Bright green. I think of it as conspicuous conservation.
Let’s face it, we need all the conservation we can get: according to TIME, it takes some 14 million trees in a single year to keep the U.S. in paper bags, and 12 million oil barrels for plastic. Treehugger.com says over 100,000 birds die every year after encounters with plastic debris, much of it plastic bags.
You’d think using the green bags would be a simple step, but then you’d be forgetting the human factor.
Today at the supermarket I arrived at the cash register and realized, as usual, that I’d left my green bags in the car. Ordinarily — if there’s no one behind me — I ask the cashier to wait a second while I race out to the parking lot, but this time I was in a rush: I only had a few minutes to grab some groceries on my way to work. “I don’t need a bag,” I told the cashier, figuring I’d carry my few items out to the car and slip them into a green bag in the trunk.
“She doesn’t need a bag,” the cashier called out. I glanced around, not sure whom she was talking to. That’s when I saw that Juliet, the supermarket’s most reliable bagger, had stepped up to the checkout counter. I always bag my own groceries unless she’s there. Juliet, a middle-aged woman with a blond ponytail who has Down syndrome, always arranges the items in the bag so they’re not squashed, leaky, or missing when you get home. By now she’d already popped my basil, fish and fruit into a plastic bag. As soon as she heard the cashier’s announcement she frowned and pulled them out again. “Thanks, Juliet,” I said, but, her frown deepening, she looked away. I swiped my debit card and, clutching my groceries in both hands, beat a hasty retreat.
All the way home I pictured Juliet’s frown and decided that if I ever found myself in that situation again, Juliet’s feelings meant more to me than one plastic bag. I’d forced myself into a bogus trade-off, of course. Had I not scheduled my day down to the last nanosecond, it would have been easy enough to run outside and bring in a green bag, which Juliet would have packed with her usual efficiency and good cheer. When I neglect to show myself compassion, I realized, I tend to short-change others as well…not to mention forgetting all about the planet.
Back home, as I put the shrimp (shrink-wrapped and farm-raised) along with the basil and fruit (each stuffed into an oversized plastic package) into my hefty side-by-side fridge (how much of an EnergyStar can it really be?), the whole effort seemed absurd. Can a few green bags really lighten my carbon footprint? I wondered. Is there any point to making such a small change?
Well, even if we save a few hundred paper or plastic bags a year, that’s a start. The bags aren’t a solution, but, along with some other changes we’re making to our daily routine, they’re a first step. More than that, maybe, when I’m all caught up in rushing around, the green bags broaden my perspective. I’m keeping them beside me in the passenger seat these days, hoping I’ll remember to bring them into the supermarket, but also letting them remind me of the choices I seek to make. They’re part of a sacramental way of life: in the midst of the day’s obligations and busyness, the green bags open me up to a caring connection with the earth, one that is interwoven with all my other relationships…with Juliet and the cashier, with the people I love, and with the loving energy that sustains us all.
Jean Grasso Fitzpatrick, L.P., a New York-licensed psychoanalyst and a member of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors, sees couples and individuals in her private practice. A layreader in the Diocese of New York, she is the author of numerous books and articles on the spirituality of relationships, including Something More: Nurturing Your Child’s Spiritual Growth and has a website at www.pastoralcounseling.net.