(Created before April 29, 2013)
Do you ever go people watching? It's truly a fascinating, if not a little odd, past-time. Right now I am in Sunridge Mall in Calgary, writing this in the food court, people watching in a sense.
Malls are entertaining, thought producing venues, especially for a small-town raised lad like myself. This spot in particular proves my point nicely. A few years ago, sitting in this exact food court, I was thinking "isn't it so awesome how there is such a vast rainbow of ethnicities represented here, all intermingling peacefully and happily with each other." It's diverse in many ways.
Immediately to my left there is a solo white middle-aged lady more likely playing a game on her smart phone than texting. In front of me there is a healthy sized family of African descent, decorated in both traditional hijabs and designer clothes quite possibly purchased in this very mall. Two preteen girls casually stroll by, the only fear on their minds being that this day of worriless meandering will end with the setting sun. A moment ago there was an overweight man dressed as Mario sitting in this food court. His costume was completed with a Mario cap donned by what I can only assume were racoon ears. Such a diverse place.
To think that if these very people were born in a less privileged time or place they would be on opposite sides in devastating wars. But here they get to choose to dine on American (KFC), Mexican (TacoTime), Korean (Koryo), or Greek (OPA!) dishes, to name a few in front of me.
Do you ever go people watching? Do you ever glance at someone, even for the shortest moment and think to yourself, "I wonder what his/her story is?" What is that girl thinking right now? What kind of home will that man return to? From where did she get the money to buy those clothes or he get the injury that causes him to limp? Do you ever impose imaginary background stories on passerby's?
What I am about to do is create a few imaginary stories, partially for the fun of it, and partially because these stories may speak into our lives.
Do you see that lady over there? No, not that one. I'm talking about the one with the brown hair in a long ponytail. Yeah, the one with the flowery blouse with jeans. Now, I know what you are thinking, "that blouse looks great on her. It doesn't make her look fat and yet she could very well be pregnant under there." But that's only what you're thinking.
What am I thinking? I'm thinking I'm going to call her Shelby. Shelby is here, like me, killing time. She happened to get off work an hour and a half before her boyfriend, Jason.
College is a few years behind Shelby, along with her share of mistakes. But she can't be blamed for those mistakes, can she? She was only living her life the way any young lady had a right to. Besides, at least she hadn't made the same terrible mistakes like the ones a few of her friends had made.
Do you see that young man over there? Okay, so there's a few young men at that table, likely of Mexican descent. But I'm talking about the one at the far end of the table with a buzz-cut: the more reserved one with little words and the occasional smile. His name is going to be Terry.
Terry is happy that his long week of high school is over. Sure, he has a couple of assignments due on Monday, but it's only Saturday. He isn't going to let some stupid homework get in the way of enjoying the weekend with his buddies.
Terry laughs along with his friends, but his thoughts aren't really on the conversation. Later tonight they're all going to return home and play Call of Duty on XBOX Live. Smiling, Terry thinks to himself how he is going to completely own his friends at the game.
Do you see that short Filipino lady? Yep, that's the one. It's getting easier to see who I am talking about now that the food court is emptying out, isn't it? Anyways, her name is Janine.
Janine is currently feeling culture shock for the second time this year. Immediately out of nursing school, Janine decided to go on a short term missions trip to Calcutta, India. There she had aided health care workers in demonstrating Jesus' love by administering medical treatment to those who couldn't afford it.
Nothing could have prepared Janine for the intense new world of Calcutta. Yes, it was crowded and yes, it was hot, but what really hit Janine the hardest was the gag inducing, stomach turning, nose torturing putrid aroma in the air. It was no wonder it stank, however: these foreign language speaking people didn't have access to the same level of sanitary outlets as she had. She had grown up in a "low income" home in Calgary, and yet she had been so much better off than these people.
Shelby grew up in a privileged home. Oh sure, it had its problems. Like the time her father had learned that she had "done it" with her high school boyfriend. Not only was she grounded for months, but the car that was given to her for her seventeenth birthday just days earlier was taken away from her until she could pay for it. Shelby was outraged at the unreasonable punishment. What was the big deal? Her father was so mean.
Looking back at it now, Shelby saw that her father was only trying to teach her about responsibility, but she still held a grudge over the fact that she couldn't go on the trip to Europe with her friends because she was grounded. Since then, many boyfriends, vacations, and hairstyles later, Shelby had matured. She was now a decent, respectable lady and Jason was a decent, respectable man. Jason had recently shaved off his ridiculous goatee, so now he even looked decent — a lesson that handsome small man across the food court, sipping an Orange Julius and writing in a notebook should learn.
Terry gave the man in the black AG Foods cap and Team Canada hoodie a quick glance. "I wonder what I would look like with a goatee," he thought, before his thoughts floated back to Call of Duty. Tonight he would get the biggest kill-streak yet.
Today a culture shock of a completely different nature was hitting Janine. What an enormous leap from a land of absolute poverty to this jungle of wealth squandering. As Janine gazed around the food court her stomach turned for a different reason. How much money did that lady spend on that dress? That likely feed little Nadia in India for years. What a waste. Look at all that leftover uneaten food on those deserted plates. What a waste. What a waste all these people were spending their lives with such materialistic attitudes when there were so many people just struggling to survive. Just entering the mall Janine had overheard a man begging for loose change. The solicitor was fully dressed and by the looks of his body, he was also fully fed and without physical deformity. Even the poorest in this nation were blessed. The food court in Sunridge Mall was a good place to sit down and share her multitude of new stories with her best friend across from her, but Janine was sickened by the consumerism surrounding her.
Janine's friend, Mary, had around her neck an expensive necklace that her husband had bought her. Janine had grown up with Mary, and was delighted to see her newlywed friend in such a happy state. As Janine showed Mary pictures of Calcutta, she only wished Mary could have been there to see it.
One of Janine's favourite pictures was the one of Nadia, the street orphan with the big smile. When Janine asked through a translator why Nadia was so happy, Nadia had said it was because she met Jesus, and now she had a friend who would always be with her. Nadia's life expectancy was so short, her quality of life so poor, and yet she had a happiness that most of these mall visitors didn't. There were so many stores in Sunridge Mall with designer clothes and fancy cosmetic products, the people visiting them so distracted by the superficial that they fail to realize that they won't be able to take their belongings with them when they die. Do they even think about what will happen when they die at all? Death was all around little Nadia, it was so close to her, and yet she was happy because she had a friend named Jesus.
Shelby was toying with the idea of buying a hamburger. She was hungry and craved one, but she didn't want to eat something that would make her get fat. The exercise she was constantly doing to keep off the fat was tiresome, and only just recently did could she fit in this size of jeans. Not wanting the hard work to go to waste, Shelby decided she would just get a salad. That stroll through The Bay was good motivation, she thought.
Now Terry was thinking about Nazi Zombies.
Perhaps the imaginary stories I imposed on Shelby and Terry make them seem too simple-minded. However, I'm going to leave them the way they are and risk future criticism since the stories present a nice contrast of mindsets. What are your thoughts when you are in the mall?