five a.m. and why I took no photos at the mall

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Sleeping is not something I do well anymore. The plus side of this is that I can hear the birds early in the morning. There are alot of birds where I live. Last night I found out my favorite aunt has had a reoccurence of a cancer that was in remission for fifteen years. She knew about it since February but didn’t want to tell me. She didn’t want to “add to my worries”. Not a burden, I wanted to tell her, but didn’t. It’s what families do, are supposed to do: worry about each other.  I have precious little left of that kind of experience…family that is. But that’s not what I intended to write about. I intended to write about why I didn’t take photos on Saturday. I went to the mall, something I almost never do, to see some drawings done by a young client. These drawings, according to her mother, showed her blossoming sense of self. I walked the entire mall but I didn’t find them. Instead I found myself seeing humanity. Going to the mall is one of the few amusements left that doesn’t cost anything. I had my new camera. I very much wanted to take photos but was too full of shock and pity. This was a war zone. Not like Afghanistan or Iraq. Just an ordinary mall, an ordinary day. As I passed the make up counters at Belks there was the woman, three maybe four times the width of the seat she was perched on, getting a makeover. walked around in front of her, knowing or rather hoping her face was pretty despite her enormous girth. Like the movie “Shallow Hall” and Gwenyth Paltrows inner beauty. What I saw was an ugly woman. Not grotesque. Just ugly. Admiring her courage or perhaps her capacity for hope, I walked on. This experience was preceded by another, similar one. I was in one of the open spaces, watching a mother and child, the child riding one of those big plastic cars that move a little. Three teenagers walk up, you know the kind. They so want to be cool. Upper bodies muscled. Handsome. Hispanic perhaps. Then I looked at their legs. One of the boys, his legs were short, twisted in an impossible angle. He had trouble walking. Not rickets. Not cerebral palsy. Something, I couldn’t tell what. Again, moved by his courage. Courage to go to the mall and act as if he was just like everyone else. A normal, obnoxious and self-centered teenager infatuated with his coolness. Yet I knew that was impossible. Humanity. All around me. Everywhere I looked it broke my heart. I went back to the safety of my apartment and the fantasy safely packaged on the tv screen. I took no photos. Addendum: Yesterday, I went to the supermarket. Sav-Mor, the one where people go who don’t want to pay full price. A woman was in front of me at the cashier. An old woman, her back bent, buying groceries. She wrote a check. You know how long that takes. We waited. Then, as I left, I saw her walking across the parking lot. Her groceries were piled on her red metal walker. Like the one my mother used to use when she could still stand. The woman was was pushing her groceries home. No car. The groceries were piled high. Courage. People have the most extraordinary courage. I am humbled and helpless at the same time.

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