"I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life;
to put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived." ~Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Bench

Me, circa 1999.

My dad emailed me a blast from the past today. I opened my email inbox and there was a note from him with an attachment. "I found this on my hard drive, but I don't know who the author is. Could it be you? It was written sometime in 1999." I read through the attachment and found that I was in fact the author. It was an essay I wrote for a class in college and I guess I used my dad's computer and he still had it saved on there. The strange thing is that he obviously doesn't have the same computer he had almost twelve years ago, so it's a mystery as to how he found it.

The Bench
Shopping malls are crowded this time of year, namely the Willowbrook Mall in Houston. I guess it’s to be expected with any change of season. With big time sales and low, low prices on new lines of spring fashions, department stores have no trouble luring people from their comfortable sofas in front of their big-screen TV’s, into their stores to take part in their semi-annuals sales. I am one of the many Americans who was lured into one of these chaotic fun houses, and that’s where I recently spent a Saturday afternoon.

I find it a very interesting thing, to walk through the hallways of these great buildings, browsing in and out of stores, comparing prices, and of course, comparing people. There is such a vast variety of people from all walks of life that inhibit the shopping malls, and it fills my mind with wonder as I sit and watch the shoppers go by.

It was about two o’clock, and I was giving my credit card a break as I enjoyed a cherry icy. I sat on a bench that happened to be right in front of a ladies' apparel boutique, and across from me sat a man that looked to be pushing thirty. On his lap sat a baby girl, I imagine to be a year old. To the side of him was a baby stroller packed with shopping bags from various stores, baby toys, a diaper bag, etc. I watched as the man embraced this little girl, whom I guessed to be his daughter. It was such a sweet thing to see him hold her and stroke her hair with his big, masculine hands, so large in comparison to the size of the child’s head.

She began to whimper, so he reached into the diaper bag and pulled out a pacifier, which I heard him refer to as a “noo noo”. Soon, the baby stopped whimpering, and even began to giggle as the man made funny faces and kissing noises with his lips. He then kissed the top of her head and snuggled her in his arms, completely unaware of my watching eye through out this whole charade. I thought to myself, “He loves that little girl. I’ll bet he treats her like a princess at home”. But I wondered where the mother might be? Is there a mother at all? My internal question was answered as I saw a woman come out of the ladies boutique and join them on the bench. She was very attractive, with a thin waistline and nicely groomed hair. She took the baby from the man and put her in her own lap, making goo goo ga ga noises at her. After a few moments of conversing, the three of them packed up and left the bench.

I sat there for a few more minutes, recollecting on what I’d just observed. I wondered what it was like at the home of this cute little family. Do they get long well? Is there a lot of contention in their home, or a lot of the same love that I’d just witnessed amongst the three of them?

Moments later the bench was once again occupied, this time by three teenage girls all looking to be sixteen-ish. Two of them were blonde, and the other was brunette. They were all fairly pretty girls, but with all of the hair gel, the pounds of make-up, and the boxed hair color, it was hard to decipher what was natural and what was store bought. The girls laughed and talked, like normal high schoolers do, when one of the blondes reached into a shopping bag and pulled out a bikini with the tags still attached. I heard her say with a worried look on her face, “I am never going to be ready to wear this for spring break. Just look at my big butt!” She exclaimed this as she stood up and let her friends examine her backside.

I tried to contain myself from laughing, so I covered my mouth with one of my hands. I found it ironic that this young girl was worried about the body fat she’d accumulated during the winter months, yet she was devouring a pastry from one of the bakeries at the mall. “Oh don’t worry about it,” the brunette said with assurance, “you’re gorgeous! And I love those new high lights!” The three girls soon picked up their bags and left also.

The bench was once again vacant, only to be occupied shortly thereafter by an elderly couple. They had to have been at least eighty-five years old, but they were sweetest couple I’d seen of any age. The two of them were dressed identically, in black slacks, blue sweaters, and little black barrette hats. On their feet were matching paten leather lace up shoes. They were frail people, as most people of that age are. The woman’s hair was silky white pulled back in a low bun, and what was left of the man’s hair, was white as well.

I tried not to stare at them, but even if I was, they were too caught up in each other to notice me looking on. In both of their faces I could see life. Not just age, but life. With each wrinkle there was probably a new story to tell, a new experience, a new heartache. As I sat there watching them, I was conjuring up a story of their life together. They met during World War II; he was a wounded soldier in Germany and she was an American nurse tending to him. They fell in love, and after the war they met back up again in the states and were married. Over the course of the past fifty-five years, they worked hard, raised many beautiful children, saved all the money they could, retired, had twenty or thirty grand children, and attained matching wardrobes to wear to every public place.

Just during the three minutes that I observed them, I could tell that this little couple had experienced life together and was deeply in love. Even with the arthritis and all of the physical complications that come with age, they still had it in them to go out and enjoy each other, even if it was just sitting on a bench in a busy shopping mall, watching all of the young people race around.

It was nearing two fifteen, and I thought I’d go give the Gap a run through. This time it was me to pick up my shopping bags and abandon the bench I’d been sitting on, and I wondered if during my stay on the bench, if an onlooker had observed my own behavior. As I walked away, I looked back once more to see the elderly couple sitting there, still holding hands and smiling. In a mere fifteen minutes, I’d read into three different generations, three different types of mall-goers. All of them were from different walks of life, but they all had one thing in common. During those fifteen minutes, they were all able to teach me about people, about the individual person. I suppose that the best-learned lesson about people doesn’t take place in a psychology classroom. It takes place in a shopping mall.

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