The supermarket is a great place to tap into the pulse of people's lives. I don't eavesdrop, but discussions happen in such a way that I'm sure people must think they're in a bubble and can't be overheard. And these conversations are most often about work/life struggles.
Standing at the deli counter recently, I heard two women updating each other since it was clear they hadn't connected in a while. One woman was talking about her elderly father who needed to move into an assisted living facility while her pre-teen child was going through her own difficulties. Having experienced the independent living/assisted living/nursing home/hospice situations with my own father several years ago while my child was dealing with issues in school, I could relate. I could see in her face - and I only glanced quickly - that she was barely holding it together.
There was no way to know whether this woman was also working outside of the home, but if so, her candle wasn't burning at both ends - it was about to be extinguished. Work/life issues of this magnitude upend life, and chaos and uncertainty quickly become the norm.
The struggle and juggle of work/life and caregiving touch everything - jobs, family, finances, resources, and health. Unrelenting stress creates additional issues including mental health issues that further complicate simply getting through the day. When ongoing crises become the norm, daily life as it was known becomes a distant memory.
Working parent. Child with special needs. Aging parent. Medical issues. Marital problems. Financial pressures. The issues are endless, yet the pressures fall into the same bucket. It's a continuous game of whack-a-mole, and often when one situation abates, another quickly emerges. And more often than not, it's multiple issues at the same time. Going to the supermarket becomes like a mini-vacation, where you can blend into the aisles...or hide in one.
Often times, particularly at work, we don't reveal or discuss what's going on for a host of reasons. We're capable and can handle it all. We've worked hard to establish our careers and want to remain on track. We want to avoid the bias that often comes with being a working caregiver. Yet the toll these work/life struggles take is enormous, and sometimes talking about some of it can really ease the burden.
I've yet to hear anyone at the supermarket talking about profit margins or promotions, but do hear plenty about marriages, children, elderly parents, college applications, teens in crisis, divorces, and not having enough hours in the day or hands to handle it all. There's just something about the supermarket that brings out what's really happening in other people's lives.