Not too long ago I bemoaned feeling disconnected from a group with whom I’d spent many active months of participation, but in which I was no longer actively involved. I started looking around for other options and realized my life was filled with connection!
My newest exercise schedule includes walking, inside, at the large shopping mall in our town. Yes, I’m a “mall walker.” I log ten to fifteen miles each week as I traverse the brown tile path along the many large, glass windows stuffed with mannequins and clothing trends and assorted items of interest. It helps to go early. Before the stores actually open. Less temptation to buy things. Many others share these halls and that brown tile path. I’m never really alone.
We are a walking community. That is our common bond and purpose for being there each morning. No long conversations except by those who bring along their own walking partners. The dimly lit, wide halls are mostly silent until the mall music begins.
There’s the gentleman wheeling his oxygen tank behind him and the younger woman (maybe his daughter) who tags alongside. One tall, white-haired man, always wearing a flannel shirt and bent slightly forward at the waist, shuffles alone. A woman in a blue sweater with perfect brown hair has her purse strap diagonally strapped across her chest with a perfectly-matched brown purse hanging over her left hip.
The security guard in his yellow, uniform shirt with bold black letters strolls in the opposite direction and down the middle between the regulars. He seems oblivious to the rules of walking. His walkie-talkie positioned on his hip is silent most days as well.
Another man – small thin frame, gray hair, glasses, and walking shorts – has such a fast pace he’s almost running. He always waves “hello” from across the concourse. I wave back quickly before he’s out of view.
A thin, petite woman, her long, gray and white hair piled high on her head, walks in private up and down one of the side wings of the tentacled mall layout. Back and forth, around the edge of her own routine, her head struggles to hold up the heavy hair as her chin and neck jut forward to maintain balance. Her tiny frame is dressed in a sweater, knit leggings, and tennis shoes. Her arms swing front-to-back like a power walker on a mission. She has the most engaging smile through bright red lipstick.
Then there’s Kathy, the mall worker who washes the entrance door windows, dusts the concourse furniture, and always has a smile and a “hello” to share, if you can catch her eye. Her earplug wires connect her head to some device in her back pocket but never seem to get in the way of her duties as she goes inside and outside to clean the windows.
It was through a short conversation with Kathy that I discovered I’m the walker who wears the cute hats. The day we exchanged names I wasn’t wearing one and she nearly didn’t recognize me. Now I make sure to always wear a hat before I enter this quiet community of dedicated walkers. If anyone’s taking attendance, I want to be sure I’m counted.
I’ve come to see that community is everywhere if you’re but willing to look and engage with those around you. Whether it’s greeting the store staff as they lift metal doors or fill display cases with jewelry, there’s a familiarity among the regular walkers. As I deepen the connection through these casual waves and acknowledge the repeated “hello’s,” I find it’s also what keeps me coming back. Each of us is contributing to community just by showing up.
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