It was just another ordinary Wednesday. I had popped into our local supermarket on my way to work to buy lunch. I was just about to leave the lobby area when I heard a haunting voice warning about “the storms”.
The anxiety in the voice was clear and I would normally have feigned deafness and quickened my step towards the safety of my car. This time I glanced to my right. The voice was that of woman, about my age, huddled over what I assumed to be a baby, telling it of her fears.
“The storms are coming. They will be bad. We all need to take cover”.
The baby, on closer inspection, turned out to be a holdall, and as our eyes met, I knew instantly that the forecast snow was the least of her problems. This is definitely the point where I should have produced an awkward smile and headed for sanctuary.
I was on my way to work.
I had deadlines.
My parents warned my about talking to strangers.
She was talking to herself.
She was shouting at passers-by.
What if she had a knife?
I had pressing deadlines.
I wouldn’t normally do this.
I walked towards her.
I sat down on the bench, next to the holdall.
“Oh I don’t think it will be that bad. The media like to whip up a story when there’s no real news.”
She didn’t mean the snow. She knew about the snow. That would pass. Her storms were beyond measurement by Beaufort. She asked me my name.
I lied. “Jennifer”.
Her name was Jennifer too and she was 47. My age. She said, that despite appearances, she wasn’t homeless and thanked me for not patronising her with the offer of a cup of tea or coffee. Besides, both were evil in her eyes. Poison. She came to the store daily to pass on her warnings. Messages from a higher place. People normally ignored her, but she could see that I believed her. Believed.
There was a pause as we took each other in. We aware of only each other and our reflections in the perfect plate-glass which surrounds the lobby and shielded us from the biting wind.
“I don’t know if I believe. What are the storms?”
Ignoring me, Jennifer outlined her life so far. She came from a caring family and had left school with a good education. She worked in insurance for over twenty years, then set up as an independent financial advisor. She lived alone in the centre of the town, in a lovely apartment overlooking the park. She avoided her neighbours. They were self-centred, media obsessed retail junkies and worthless.
“They must have some good qualities”.
Giving me a piercing stare, Jennifer reminded me that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.
“Yet it was the basis of your career for so long. It provided for you and I expect it helped you buy your apartment?”
Jennifer said that this contradiction fuelled her inner storm. She did not live a life of excess, enjoyed the simple things, but could not let go of her comforts bought by dubious means.
“But you were providing a service to people. Products that they wanted for their own security”.
To satisfy their greed, to provide false hope, to protect them from their own stupid actions when they should be more responsible. Consequences are lessons to be learned. Many forms of insurance are just self-denial. They allow fools to continue unchecked. The weak and the meek couldn’t or wouldn’t buy this illusion, and the fools prosper.
She paused. Financial products make money from money, not from honest hard work. No materials. No finished product. There was no craft in what she had done. The storms were coming and I had to prepare myself.
“Where are the storms?”
“Storms of the mind? Of the soul?”
Precisely. I had to choose. To continue my apathetic existence, surrounded by and feeding greed and ignorance. Or to fight against it. I had to choose. Just as she had chosen.
“But have you? You still have your apartment. How does that fit with the storms?”
She said nothing.
I looked to the floor, thinking about my own house, career, car, possessions, savings. My world, in financial and material terms. I had not come by them through craft. Arguably I had used skills, but those skills had built increasingly efficient systems to put hundreds, perhaps thousands, out of work. My path had been similar to Jennifer’s.
I looked up. She had gone.
All that was left was my own reflection in that perfect, spotless, plate-glass.