I was running errands after work yesterday when my daughter texted me that she needed chocolate chips so she could make some cookies for a couple of special teachers at school. Since I was on that end of town, I decided to quickly stop at the sad grocery store to get the chocolate chips.

Surely you know what I mean by the “sad grocery store”. Doesn’t every town have one?

It’s the store that sits in the older, less-nice part of town and everything about it just feels sad and heavy. The building, the cashiers, the shoppers…they all look as if they’re carrying a heavy burden that they long ago gave up trying to release. The building has seen some years and is a little worn around the edges, like an old book. It is a smallish building so it doesn’t take much time to go from one end to the other – remembering that you needed apples when you are already in the paper goods aisle doesn’t cause you angst the way it does in a super-center. The cashiers are tired but happy to have this job, because they need it, but also they’re just ready to go home. The regular customers wish they didn’t have to shop here – they wish they had the money to shop at the nicer grocery store on the other side of town, the one that sells the fancy cheeses and organic dog food.

This is the store that still has a movie rental place, and it’s not an automatic kiosk, either. It’s an actual room with actual DVDs that you pick up and take to the actual counter and you show your actual movie rental card to the teenager working behind it. If you rent a new release, you get free popcorn and a punch in your frequent rental card (rent 10 movies get the next one free!)

The bright light of this grocery store is the manager, who has been there for more years than you’ve been alive, and is also the nicest man ever in the history of grocery store managers. He cares about his customers and more importantly, he cares about his employees. He just wants everyone to have what they need. He will ask you with such sincerity if you are finding everything okay that you are tempted to make up something just to give him the satisfaction of helping you. And if you do need help, he will escort you personally to the item in question. Pointing you in the general direction wouldn’t even occur to him. He is also most likely the only reason the Sad Grocery Store is still in business.

I grabbed two bags of chocolate chips and laid them on the conveyor belt. I smiled at the cashier, which he took as sign that I was someone he could try out his comedy routine on. He made a lame joke about an old burrito complete with odd sound effects and pretty soon it got very awkward as he tried harder and harder to make me laugh, but all I could give was a polite chuckle. I was relieved when I was finally able to take my plastic bag and leave.

Leaving the sad grocery store feels like escaping something: a future that could have been mine if different choices had been made at pivotal points in my life. There but for the grace of God go I. The sad grocery store makes me grateful for the way things have turned out.