The Altered Universe

Do you ever find yourself in a place that is not normal for you, look around, and feel that you’ve entered the Twilight Zone?

At this moment, I’m sitting at a little table outside of the Starbucks in the Yorkdale Mall in Toronto. It’s Sunday morning, the only time to come here when there is parking and fewer people. I’m waiting for my lesson at the Apple store, which is pre-booked and starts at 11: a.m. The mall is closed but there are senior people here who have come to walk around and get some exercise, I guess. There are new parents with strollers who don’t know what to do with a baby. Maybe they are bored and just want to be with others. There are ‘fancy’ people waiting to get their shopping fix. There are people drooling at store windows that offer a promise of some better life.

I don’t really understand why anyone would ever come here when there is a bright day outside, filled with promise, parks with grass and trees and sky, and wonderful places to explore. I don’t understand bringing children here to walk around. The tiles are cold and hard. I personally find shopping malls to be against the human spirit with all of the hard surfaces and harsh lights. Perhaps when the weather is cold and snowy, it makes a little bit of sense to find a warm place to walk around. However, at this moment it’s sunny, warm and lovely outside. The air is fresh with the promise of smiling people, happy children and furry dogs, all enjoying the beautiful day.

There are altered universes everywhere, I suppose, within hospital walls, university libraries and government offices. Harsh lights can sometimes breed harsh people. Subways and buses, especially if crowded, can seem like universes of their own. No one looks happy, and few people smile or say hello. Certainly within each car, people seem to often be in their own world, and not engaged. Just try to catch some driver’s eye to see if they might let you in.

And yet, the odd person does look your way, really sees you, and will smile. I find that if I do not allow myself to get sucked into the mindless state, but rather, engage and say hello, everything can change in a moment.

Just yesterday, I was on the subway in the middle seat of a 3-seater bench. A woman, around 40-ish, got on with her (I suppose), husband. She sat, he stood. I said, “Would you like me to move over so you can sit together?” She replied, “Oh no, thanks. I see him all the time. This is my little break.” I laughed, so did she, and then we talked for the next while, about everything from marriage, to togetherness, to gun violence to raising children to be happy, loving beings. She was delightful. In that one exchange, a sterile altered universe became a friendly, happy, interesting place. Other people within earshot were also listening, and many smiled at us both and even laughed at some of our comments.

Altered universe? We altered it. It wasn’t even hard to do.

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