Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

Jan. 7, 2002

When one steps into a shopping mall these days, it's like stepping into confusion ­ noise, lights, Christmas gift comebackers, lots of frantic folks staring blankly ahead, bored teenagers, and more trash than usual.

What are we supposed to make of a shopping mall which seems to blow our peaceful Christmas all apart, besides the trite observation that the best things in life aren't things?

Do we attack the very premise of the mall and scorn its capitalism on grounds of greed promotion, or does one look beneath the surface and find some genuine treasure after all?

Does one look at the shoppers and pity them for their materialism, or does one see in them what Thomas Merton saw in people when he said, "Don't they all realize they are going about with faces shining like the sun?"

At Sunrise Mall here in Corpus Christi, Texas, there is joyfulness afoot these days after Christmas, if only one slows down a little and does some people watching.

For one thing, there is a community flourishing there as surely as there are real rats somewhere in the walls and under the floors. (Yes, Virginia, there really are mall rats.)

People who work there know each other. They share rides to work, they look at the report cards of each others children, they share grandchildrens photos, shopping tips of their own, friendships, and, surprisingly often, romance.

Some of the workers bring their children to work with them when they can't find a babysitter. Sometimes their children help them to sweep the floor or wait on the trade.

The workers (at least the regulars) have the same kind of community that casino employees often have in the middle of their crowds of strangers.

They all know that they do have a life outside the artificial, climate controlled environment in which they earn their daily bread. They also share compassion, not only for each other, but for the lost and the lonely.

The malls may be a symbol of American decadence, but they are also places where someone with no money can go, feel a part of the energy generated by the shoppers, and feel welcomed by the almost universally friendly employees.

I want to pay tribute to them because of what they did for my friend, Gordon.

Gordon was profoundly crippled and wheelchair bound. He was dying of cancer. For over a year, the CARE B bus would drop him off at the mall for the day, and there he would sit.

He never approached anyone, but was most friendly if anyone stopped to talk with him. Gordon was very devout, and had not only a Rosary in hand as he sat there enjoying the ambience, but was bedecked with all kinds of religious medals.

He didn't try, though, to push his faith off on anyone. Gradually, all the Sunrise Mall employees got to know him. When he died on Thanksgiving Day, his mourners were mostly employees from Sunrise Mall, people who knew and loved Gordon.

Gordon's favorite priest prayed and celebrated Gordon's life at his funeral. The priest knew that Gordon had taught all of us at the mall, whether we went there to exercise, like I did, or simply to shop, that if we really believed in God, we could live joyfully, just as Gordon was joyful - even with being crippled, disabled, cancerous, and in constant pain.

He taught us that faith in God, which fed his humor and kindness, could overcome anything.

Gordon's electric wheelchair gave out some time back. He didn't ask for it, but the mall employees took up a collection for a new wheelchair for him.

There were glass jars on the counters of the stores asking for donations (what would "corporate policy" say about that, I wondered at the time).

Chelsea Street Pub had a big jar, and I think some of the waiters there tossed in their tips sometimes.

Three thousand dollars was a lot of money to raise, but so they did, from both employees and shoppers. It was a joyous time when Gordon was able to come back and thank whomever he could.

The employees at the mall miss Gordon. I know I do. He told me a joke one time: "What did the three-legged dog say when he walked into the saloon?" Answer: "I'm looking for the man who shot my paw."

Well, even though the people who knew him at Sunrise Mall thought Gordon was a saint, nobody said he was perfect.

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