Untaken – 18 Jan 2017

There is no doubt that the larger world can be a scare place.  Leaving the (relative) safety of our dwellings and workplaces can be a stressful thing.  The dangers lie not in just the obvious big things, e.g. crime, car accidents, etc., but also in the little unseen things, i.e. germs.  Any place where large numbers of people gather can be a hotbed for germs, and that includes the grocery store.  Some of the larger grocery stores I’ve visited have an alcohol pad dispenser so a shopper can wipe down the cart or basket.  Normally I’ll see people take one, wipe down the cart handle, dispose of the pad, and be on their way to shopping.

This did not prepare me for what I saw this night, however.  As I was grabbing a cart (meanwhile ignoring the sterile wipe dispenser), I glanced at a gentleman wiping down his cart.  It wasn’t the handle he was wiping, though.  He was wiping the metal around the top of the basket.  I had to look away for a moment to process what I was seeing.  When I looked again, he was taking another pad from the dispenser.  Then he proceeded to wipe down the metal bars along the side of the cart.  I looked at his face.  There wasn’t worry or fear in his expression, just a determination to get through this task and proceed to the next.  He was executing these movements next to the dispenser, but out of the way of other incoming customers and partially obscured from their view.

I can’t make any assumptions as to why he was seemingly intent on sterilizing every surface that could possibly contact his skin during his shopping time.  Perhaps he had a weakened immune system.  That begs the obvious question as to why he would be out anyway.  Didn’t he know how acquired immunity works?  Without exposure to some pathogens, his body will never learn how to fight them.  Did he simply have OCD, was aware, and tried not to let it affect others?

That last possibility seemed the most plausible.  I had my phone in my hand (I had taken it out to pull up by grocery list) but quickly put it in my pocket.  This was his cross to bear and the fact that he was away from others seemed a statement that he would bear it alone, at least out here.  For me to have taken a photograph of his activity, without his permission, could come across as mocking.  Mocking was never my intent, but I decided not to leave my intent (which was fascination at that which I did not understand) to question.

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