Please Don’t Let Me Die in Walmart

Posted October 10th, 2013 by Candice


A few weeks ago, when I was at Bell House on my private writing retreat, I knew I couldn’t write ten pages a day as I usually do.  For one thing, I wasn’t that far along on a project.  For another, I was sort of a wreck.  What I really wanted to do was sink into the little town of Colonial Beach.  Let my innkeeper friend feed me sumptuous breakfasts.  Run along the river in the mornings, walk on the beach in the evenings. 

I went to the tiny library that’s only open at odd times.  One of the best things about my retreat is that I have no dishes to wash, no food to hunt and gather, no laundry to sort, no TV, no phone, no radio, and, of course, no Internet.  So I read.  Deeply.  I read on the sofa in the sitting room.  I read in bed.  I read in luncheonettes. 

One day I pulled Eat Pray Love off the shelf, a book everyone has read but me.  I wish I could say I adored Eat Pray Love but I found it self-serving and self-indulgent.  Still, Gilbert gave me the notion to learn to pray.  She says, “We gallop through our lives like circus performers balancing on two speeding side-by-side horses—one foot is on the horse called “fate,” the other on the horse called “free will.”  Prayer is a relationship and your prayers should be intentional. 

This made me think about the prayers I’ve sent up:  “Please don’t let it rain the night of the Children’s Choice gala—I’m wearing a vintage dress.”  “Please let my husband pull through surgery.  I won’t ask for another thing.  I promise.”  And just this past Monday, “Please don’t let me die in Walmart.” 

Using Gilbert’s concrete image, I decided I would practice Pick a Horse and Pray, knowing some prayers were on the Fate horse, but others, the ones in my control, were riding on Free Will.  I am striving to make prayer less an occasion to ask for things, like a list for Santa Claus, and more of an intentional experience. 

Since I made that decision half the time I forget to Pick a Horse and Pray.  Sometimes I’m on my morning run when I remember.  Sometimes I’m in the shower.  Monday I realized it doesn’t matter when or where you pray, just so long as you mean it.

Monday I was out on errands.  Library (not the cute one in Colonial Beach), grocery store, dump, finishing up with a quick stop in Walmart.  I was dropping boxes of tapioca in my cart when the tornado warning came.

My first thought was:  I wish I had brought a book.  I’d just checked out Pat Schneider’s How the Light Gets In: Writing as a Spiritual Practice and had read the first chapter in my truck.  No publisher paid Pat Schneider to go to a bunch of countries and write about how she healed herself.  Schneider is in the trenches, giving writing workshops to women in poverty (something she experienced herself), helping them find their voices.  Before I sailed blithely into Walmart, I read this from Pat’s book: 

Beginning to write is an intentional, particular, inner act; usually it seems like turning toward something unknown in my mind—an inward looking, listening.  I held my pen above my page, but I could not focus my attention.  Suddenly I thought, tonight, words are turtles.

That may not seem very promising, but I love turtles.  I grew up with them in the Ozark Mountains where a box turtle is a child’s most common experience of wild animals.  Tonight, words are turtles.  Experience has taught me to recognize the tiny jolt of joy that tells me a phrase or an image is worth pursuing.  I wrote quickly.

Tonight, words are turtles

sleeping under mud.

Even when I poke them

they will not wake up.

Leave us alone

their silence says.

When we decide to surface,

we will tell you what we dream.

On the spot I fell hard for Pat Schneider. 

I came home from Walmart in one grateful piece, fed the cat (who was annoyed I was late for lunch), heated some leftovers, and read more of How the Light Gets In.  Then I went to my desk, opened my journal, and wrote this:

                        Danger strikes

                        without warning—

                        washing dishes

                        pulling weeds

                        trundling a cart through Walmart

                        They herd us into the center

                        of the store.


                        We gather in Menswear

                        silent as rain pounds the 

                        peel-off roof.

                        I think, Don’t let me go

                        this way.

                        Not for a ninety-four cent box of tapioca,

                        a pair of brown leggings to return (note: smaller size needed)

                        Not before I’ve learned

                        to pray


                        Take me for something bigger,


Pat Schneider gave me a tiny jolt in the right direction.  There is work to be done.  I have far to go in this praying/writing/living business.  I’ll have to figure it out here at home, not in Italy or India or Indonesia, places like Walmart, not an ashram.


If I’m very lucky, I too will learn what turtles dream, when they are ready to tell me.

17 Responses to “Please Don’t Let Me Die in Walmart”

  1. Melodye says:

    There’s much here that makes me nod and say, “amen.” I could go on at length, but no; you’ve said it so well, already. I’d just that echo your thoughts about Gilbert’s book, and your sentiments about Schneider’s.

    Quick story about turtles, though, if you’ll indulge me…

    My father once braked for a box turtle that was ambling across the road between two turnpikes, somewhere in Oklahoma. My brother claimed it as his own, called it Midway. It rode home in the backseat with us…plodded from one footwell to another, crawled across our laps as we made our way back CA. It disappeared one autumn afternoon, under my sister Sheryll’s watch. My brother was mad as a wet hornet, and we were devastated to think that it hated us enough to vanish like that, without leaving any clues as to its whereabouts. It was only much later — years later, in a biology class–that I realized it had probably not run away, but merely found itself a safe place in which to hibernate for the winter. And I realized just recently that I have much in common with that turtle, tucked safely inside its plates of armor until such time that it was ready to emerge, ready at last to share its dreams and stories.

    • Candice says:

      I was going to write to you, to tell you about Schneider’s books (her background, in particular). But of course you are ahead of me. I adore this woman and wish I could take her workshops. Really…the three of us could spend an afternoon–we all have so much in common.

      The turtle story is wonderful! I didn’t know turtles needed to get ready for hibernation until I was feeding Job a few summers ago. I had to stop giving him cat food and let him “clear out” his digestive tract. We are both box turtles, carrying our homes and our pasts on our backs.

  2. Melodye says:

    We are both box turtles, carrying our homes and our pasts on our backs. Yes. Oh my, yes. If I’m remembering things right, you wrote a blog entry about Job. I almost told you about Midway then. Almost, but I guess I wasn’t ready.

    Jeannine Atkins gave me a copy of HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN. Such a thoughtful gift, I can’t begin to say! I keep it in my car, so when I’m delayed for whatever reason, no worries! I have something wonderful to read.

    I do wish that we could spend time together with Schneider. Jeannine, too. Wouldn’t that be lovely? Hmmm…maybe we could get you to join us at the Yoga & Writing retreat next June. 🙂

  3. Candice says:

    Jeannine, yes! She has to be there! (Jeannine, are your ears burning?) I’ve ordered How the Light Gets In and Schneider’s other book, Writing Alone and With Others. I read it before I go to sleep . . .

  4. Tina says:

    Even though I take tornado warnings VERY seriously and wish everyone else here would now that tornadoes have reached down into Appalachia, parts of this are hilarious and I’ll share with Lana Whited, who loves turtles. I hope Lana does not read in the comments about taking a turtle to California because she still feels guilty for taking one from Virginia to Ohio when she was a child. She fears that it is still trying to get back to Virginia, as Meloye’s turtle probably tried to get home from CA, since they are territorial. When one showed up at my house, Lana told me I was absolutely now allowed to take it upon myself to move it out to the woods.

    • Candice says:

      I take tornado warnings seriously, too–they are so random and frightening. Who doesn’t love turtles? And who hasn’t moved one as a child? They can travel up to 20 miles a day, trying to get home. The Lassie of the reptile world!

  5. Donna says:

    Even when we do not discuss our trips to the library, we choose the same books. I was attracted to How the Light Gets In immediately and devoured the beginning chapters. But I do not read quickly enough and the book was due back and could not be renewed. I moved on to other books, but now that I have been reminded I will re-visit this book and finish what I started. Thanks for sharing what’s on your mind and in your heart.

    Prayer is near and dear to my heart – a conversation that quiets and calms and affirms in the most unexpected ways.

    • Candice says:

      This is not a quick read (and I have our library system’s only copy), so I can understand why you had to return it (people don’t realize we can only keep books out two measly weeks in our library system). I’m buying my own copy because I want her wisdom on my nightstand. I want to learn to write deeply, go past the barricades I’ve set up and see what’s on the other side.

  6. Connie Van Hoven says:

    “Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into the sky—up—up—up—into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.” From Anne of Green Gables

    I know how much you love nature, Candice. I think you’ve been praying all along!

    • Candice says:

      If you count talking to turkey vultures, I guess I have! I don’t mean to sound sacrireligious…I look up, too, at the sky and the birds. Maybe that’s how I’ve been praying.

  7. i’m glad you didn’t die in wal-mart. but if you are inclined, we have a really nice wal-mart here in ashland, and so far have not had a tornado warning. our walmart is small and cozy as walmarts go. i pray everytime i go in…to buy only what i came for and nothing else….

    • Candice says:

      I don’t ever keep that promise–buy only what I go in for! I actually like the old-fashioned small Walmarts better. And I do like the way people use them for sort of a community center.

  8. There’s so much I love here, and glad I came late to the party to see the sweet conversation between you and Melodye and how you roped me in. Pat Schneider lives in the next town, so I’ve heard her speak and met people whose lives she’s changed, and she is as real as real can be. Reading How the Light Gets In I did think, oh Melodye has to read this, and it’s great to find you reading it, too. (and what’s with that two week library limit!) turtles, prayer, getting through the days pages… I need to rest here for a while. xo

    • Candice says:

      See, you ears were burning! I figured you knew Pat Schneider or at least heard her speak. Her writing, and her background, tells me she is very much a real person. As Andre Dubus III says, we don’t get to choose what haunts us.

      The three of us, Melodye, you, and me, really do need to get together. From three very different places, but we have so much in common . . . maybe Pat Schneider could head up our little group!

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