Being claustrophobic, I try to avoid crowded malls and stores whenever possible. For example, you will never find me shopping in at a discount store on a tax-free weekend. I’ll gladly pay the taxes and go shopping when everyone else is counting the cash they saved by fighting throngs of people. Better yet, I try to shop online and avoid people altogether.
Last Sunday afternoon, however, my son and I went to a nearby Academy Sports + Outdoors to pick up some new shoes. I figured not many people would be there because school had already started for many kids and surely parents shopped a few weeks ago during the tax-free weekend, right?
The parking lot was so full we had to park near the oil change store about two football field lengths away. As we high-tailed it across the sizzling pavement dodging circling Ford F-150s, I thought about just going home and ordering the shoes off the Internet. But my son really needed to try them on. And we were already there. So I took a deep breath and entered the mass of crazed back-to-school-shopping chaos.
I kid you not; The entire population of North Texas was crammed into the aisles. And yet my son and I soldiered on, dodging bodies to the back of the store to men’s shoes, passing diminutive football players trying on shoulder pads, pre-teen girls picking out pink and blue Nike shorts, moms carrying piles of white shirts and blue shorts and dads holding restless toddlers.
Thankfully, amid the disheveled rows of shoeboxes, we found the ones he wanted. In his size. And they fit.
“Great. Let’s go,” I said.
“Wait, I need socks and jeans and a shirt,” my son said.
And that’s how I ended up standing around a pulsing Academy waiting for my son to pick out the perfect pack of socks and having my moment of enlightenment.
While he debated Nike vs. Reebok, I gripped the box holding the new Sperrys and watched all the families around us with kids trying on new sneakers. I noticed something remarkable. Right in that little corner of Academy, African-American, Hispanic, Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern and white families were all doing the same thing. We were all outfitting our kids for the new school year. Despite the many differences in our backgrounds, language and cultures, we all had a common bond right at that moment in the same place. I felt like we were all a different color in the same box of crayons. Unified despite our diversity.
I am standing right in the middle of the melting pot, I thought.
To live in a country where such peaceful diversity exists is the ultimate privilege. Despite all the things you read in the news about racial divisions, immigration and hate crimes, all I saw at that day at Academy was parents of all backgrounds wanting to do the best for their children. I couldn’t help but feel the cozy blanket of gratitude to be one of those parents.
I watched one mom in particular talk to her teenage son in Spanish every time he walked over from the dressing room in a different pair of Levi’s. While I had no idea what she was saying to him, the way they were laughing and the crinkle in her eye as she (maybe) poked a little fun at him, was so cute that it made me tear up a little.
After the boy left for the third time she turned to me, smiled, and said with a heavy accent, “Teenagers!”
I laughed and said, “I know!”
After bonding with my new friend, I wasn’t in such a hurry to leave anymore. Even waiting in the ridiculously long checkout line proved inspiring. In my hour at Academy, I never heard a cross word. I heard kids of all backgrounds using pleases and thank yous.
I saw one little girl bring two backpacks to her father and hold them up for his opinion, one Dora the Explorer and one plain pink. He pointed to the pink one and she beamed before returning the Dora backpack to its spot. As the dad watched her walk away, he grinned. I assume he was thinking how lucky he was to be her father.
As we drove home, instead of feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, I felt hopeful for humanity. After all, at our very core, we are all the same.