Last week I went in search of bee pollen at a local health food store. As soon as I stepped in, I was reminded of the health food stores I went to as a child in San Diego, with my tofu-eating mother. Before Whole Foods. Before your corner bodega sold kombucha or gluten-free or dairy-free anything. And they had an herby-planty smell I came to associate with carob muffins, and honeycomb and whole wheat bread so dense it could break your toe if you dropped it. And it meant special happy times with my mom.
And that’s what I inhaled when I stepped into this not-to-be-named shop last week. I stepped in. Stopped. Inhaled. And, because the shop is miniscule (which I love!), I inevitably got in someone’s way, that someone being a salesperson, and I said, as one does, sorry. She rolled her eyes. Which didn’t fit with her easy-going yoga leggings vibe. Whatever…
–Do you speak English? She stared at me. Wordless, as if to say, what a stupid question. Do you have bee pollen? I asked.
–What is that?
–It’s from bees, really healthy…
-Everything we have is healthy…
-Yes, of course, and it’s usually refrigerated…
And she walked off. Came back with the manager and the manager said, pollen? The lycra-legging saleswoman nodded and followed her and I followed behind and tripped over one of the many unpacked boxes on the ground, filled with green tea and something that looked like herbs but I couldn’t be sure, as it was written in Hebrew. And I fell right into my new friend, who already hated me. Sorry, I said. Again—rolled eyes. She grabbed my jar of bee pollen from the manager and walked to the cash register. And by this point, I am wondering…WTF?
I put my backpack on the counter/scale to get my wallet, which impeded the ringing-up process and she said, move your bag.
And that was it, she’d had it. She unleashed all the rage she’d ever had at any sorry she’d ever been forced to hear, and I stood there. Silent. Dumbfounded, as she yelled at me for saying sorry.
She, yoga lady, all half of my age had me nearly in tears. And I grabbed my bee pollen, and ran out of the store, muttering to myself, well, that’s the last time I ever go there, mean mean mean lady. (And, truth be told, I included a few expletives in my assessment of this person.) And then, not five steps later, I thought, maybe she was right, maybe I say sorry too much, maybe that is not “Israeli”, maybe it makes me look weak. Am I weak? Did I say sorry because I am weak?
Let’s just say…it became a bit of a downward rabbit-hole spiral that lasted, oh, a day or so…
Until I took a walk on Nahalat Binyamin, where they have loads of vintage shops, and there was one shop in particular that caught my eye. It reminded me of a vintage shop my daughters and visited in NY City, just near Union Square, where we had to wait in freezing-cold February weather for nearly 20 minutes before entering. And what I remembered most about that visit, was not the great price we got on the leather jacket or gold hoop earrings as big as my face, but the 10 minutes that my youngest and I spent putting on crazy hats and sunglasses and posing in front of the mirror and taking ridiculous selfies. And I didn’t give a damn what anyone thought. I was having fun. I was happy. I was free.
And I thought, hmmmm….that’s why this bee pollen debacle has hit me so hard. Because I feel judged. And I care what the judgy judger thinks. And I instinctively think, how do I change myself so that I am not judged?
And I thought of a line from an Alice Notley poem I’d read that morning, Will I hide until I die?
Am I hiding? What am I hiding? As I stood in front of the vintage window display, channeling my inner disco diva, I thought, time to stop hiding. Time tolook myself in the mirror (or vintage shop window) and see me—age spots and all. Sorry’s and all. Love for poetry and K-drama and tofu and tendency to tear up when I see a limping dog or crying baby or when a mean saleswoman is having a bad day.
To embrace ourselves we need to look at ourselves, define ourselves, not in reference to others, but in beholding the beauty that we are. But, it’s not easy; as Lorraine O’Grady writes, So long unmirrored in our true selves we may have forgotten how we look. So look! Pull out the hand mirror or stand in front of the full-length mirror or the vintage shop window and look into your eyes and say, time to come out of the shadows and stop hiding and behold beautiful you!