“Waste some money on this honey,” a man said as I whisked through the automatic doors on a mission to find Benjamin plane toys and a new car seat.
His buddy laughed.
“Were they just talking to me?” I asked myself silently. Then I looked up and around and I realized I’d just walked into the wrong Wal-Mart.
A few years ago, a girl about my age had been followed home from a store very near this one and then stuffed into the trunk of her car before her assailants set it on fire. My gut instinct was to turn around immediately but I didn’t.
“No. I am going to stay. I have to face this,” I thought.
I took off my new leather gloves and hid them in my purse, hoping it would help me blend in. But I couldn’t hide everything else. My nice hair cut. My fresh smell. My make up. My warm coat.
In the snack aisle a pregnant woman was scowling into her cell phone while her friend was shouting something to whoever was on the other end. Her son sat in the cart watching. An old woman walked by but I couldn’t find a smile in her eyes, only a rigid stare, one I imagined she’d fortified over years of shopping in stores like this one.
Suddenly it occurred to me that no one – none of my friends or family – knew where I was. Benjamin was with his father and I hadn’t told any of my co-workers about my trip. I thought about the girl in the trunk and texted my little sister, “I’m in the wrong Wal-Mart. It’s on ____ Road. Just in case something happens.”
I looked at my words as my iPhone took them away.
“Wrong.” Why wrong?
Why wasn’t I wrong? Why was I right?
I had entered a world I couldn’t even pretend to understand, a foreign culture in my own back yard and I was calling it wrong? The only thing I had in common with these people, it seemed, was the fact that we spoke the same language but that doesn’t make me right and them wrong. It makes me lucky perhaps, lucky to have been born with privileges. Lucky to have been taught how to work hard, how to never give up, how to believe in every one – no matter who they are or where they came from – to believe that most of us are inherently good.
While I waited to pay I saw three mothers, all of whom had bare left fingers like mine. And then as I watched them entertaining their little ones with laughs, tickles and sweet whispers I saw something that is universal in every neighborhood and on every street in every nation – the unconditional purity of a mother’s love.
It’s exactly what will get me through our cross country adventure on Thursday. That and the realization that taking a flight to California is nothing compared to what those mothers must have to endure every single day.
My life is small potatoes in comparison.