A Real New Year’s Vow

Photo courtesy Daniel Ramirez, CC-by-2.0



I was at the Schnucks after lunch on New Year’s Eve, picking up finger foods for later. The checkout line was longer than I have seen in four years of living here. It ran the length of impulse buys, about a third of the width of the supermarket, from coffee and filters, past beer and wine, chips and snacks, medicine and vitamins, deodorant and shampoo, paper towels and cleaning supplies, and the freezer wall of ice cream, back to frozen meals, where it turned the corner and went halfway down the aisle toward the storeroom. Customers were not in terrible moods, but their frozen eclairs were melting in their carts. I was in line too, without a ride home, because it had taken so long that my elder son had to leave me there to run my younger son to work across town.

As I stood waiting, a guy emerged from behind the rotisserie chickens near the cash registers and started walking his cart up the long line of people waiting to check out. He ignored everyone, dozens of people, except me, with whom he locked eyes 75 feet away. He approached, still intent on me. It took a while. I looked back, trying to stay neutral. Without slowing down, he said bitterly but not without humor as he passed, “Is it worth it?”

I laughed. Why me? Clearly that was the universe, disguised as some guy, asking the question of our time.

This was the supermarket where I had shopped with anxiety through the start of Covid, had learned about modern shortages of basics such as toilet paper, had watched meat double in price more recently. Was it worth it? Some things just are, universe.

But I take your point. As I have struggled occasionally in a time of disease, conflict, division, heartbreak, and financial precariousness, I have tried to understand what is necessary, what is still good.

I will stand in line for taquitos and tubs of cheese spread and hummus, because they make my sons happy when we watch a movie late at night. I will continue to bend my life to get back from my adventures to those who are important to me, including my friends, family, and the cats I know personally. All of them are worth it at an existential level.

One of them, a veteran friend with an anger problem who went down to the bar where his wife was hit on by a couple of college guys, demonstrated not-worth-it last year. It became five against one, and when he spun and repeatedly punched one of his foes, the man “crumbled like gingerbread.” They were both surprised. It took a super-team of lawyers, including one my friend knew from the State Department, to get his life back from a possible prison sentence.

I can think of many things that are not worth it in 2023—jealousies, anxieties over the know-not-what—so here is my obligatory New Year’s post: Never mind resolutions. I am shopping for worth.

John Griswold

John Griswold is a staff writer at The Common Reader. His most recent book is a collection of essays, The Age of Clear Profit: Essays on Home and the Narrow Road (UGA Press 2022). His previous collection was Pirates You Don’t Know, and Other Adventures in the Examined Life. He has also published a novel, A Democracy of Ghosts, and a narrative nonfiction book, Herrin: The Brief History of an Infamous American City. He was the founding Series Editor of Crux, a literary nonfiction book series at University of Georgia Press. His work has been included and listed as notable in Best American anthologies.