This evening I visited a mall for the first time in over a year. My purpose for the visit was to return some gifts I bought online- my preferred method of shopping these days, but I needed to make the returns in person due to sizing. The trip to the mall was actually very somber. On my way there, a former student notified me that she is moving to Las Vegas this weekend with her partner. She’s nearing 30 and moving to LV will allow her and her partner live comfortably. Right now she’s living with her mom and doesn’t want to further depend on her. Although I haven’t seen the student in over 8 years, her news of moving saddened me. We have kept in touch over the years and I even stopped by her prom and high school graduation. We celebrated her 18h birthday together and I visited her when she used to work at a club. One time she called me in desperate need of a ride, so picked her up in Vallejo to take her back to Pittsburg. Recently she invited me to her certification graduation, but I had to decline due to COVID. And I can’t forget about the time, years ago, we went to San Francisco and ate at the Cheesecake Factory. Then we went to Coach where I bought her a small purse as a graduation gift. She also visited me when I lived in Pittsburg then in Hercules. As I said, I haven’t seen her in over 8 years, but there was something comforting knowing she lived in Pittsburg- about 20 miles from where I currently live. Not knowing how to take the news, I told her that I would do a drive -by visit for her going away party on Saturday. I plan to stop by and visit from the safety of my car. I also offered to give her some of my stored furniture – like my dining table, chairs, bar stools and bar cart. It pains me to know that she is moving, but rather than dwell on it, at least I can help her.
While I was in line in the mall, I over heard the person in front of me say that this was his first visit to the mall in over a year. He said that it felt strange, wearing jeans as opposed to sweats, seeing people in person rather than on a screen and that he didn’t realize that baseball hats were two dollars more expensive. The sales person blamed it on COVID. “Business has been slow,” he said as he shrugged his shoulders and bit his lower lip. “I understand” was the other man’s response as he adjusted his face mask. I stood there, feeling more forlorn as I thought about the news of my former student moving, possibly because of COVID and now these strangers in front of me were confessing how COVID had altered their lives- one afraid to be in public, the other afraid of losing his business.
It’s December 3rd. Usually a visit to the mall seems more joyous; you hear Christmas music, take pictures with Santa, have a cup of coffee or hot chocolate as you peruse sales for gift giving. But none of that occurred today. In fact, I think I may have experienced something better. The trip to the mall was a gentle reminder that people are making brave choices all around us- moving during a pandemic , stepping foot in public for the first time , making hard but necessary business decisions, or even me -accepting that a very special person in my life is moving away. It may not feel like the typical Christmas but there are certainly moments of joy and celebration if we look and listen hard enough.