I visit shopping malls with the same pleasure as I visit the dentist. For me shopping is a distraction from meaningful activity, and consumerism in general dismays me. Still, there are occasions when I need to visit my local mall, and sometimes my visits produce interesting encounters. I can think of two occasions in particular. 

The first happened about fifteen years ago. After buying some shoes, I went to use the payphone at the edge of the food court. I found it occupied by another man, talking to someone about sandwich meat and carrots. 

Presently another man arrived. He stopped and waited a short distance behind me, respecting my personal space. We stood there together for a couple of minutes before I noticed him starting to look at me closely. 

“Excuse me,” he said.

I looked at him. “Yes?”  

“Are you a meditator?”  

I was dumbfounded. 

“Yes,” I replied.

“I can tell,” he said, continuing to stare at me, his eyes tracing the contour of my head. 

Nothing more. That was it.

My second encounter began in similar fashion, but it took a more dramatic turn. It happened about five years ago.  

I was working at home when suddenly I felt strongly directed to go to the mall. Immediately. I could see no reason to go, but the feeling was undeniable, so I let the thought play in my consciousness to see if something more might emerge.

I should get a coffee and a donut in the food court. 

I didn’t feel like eating a donut, but the message was unrelenting, so I got in my car.   

I went directly to the food court. After buying a small coffee and a plain donut at the Tim Hortons, I surveyed the tables. There were small tables around the periphery of the court with regular chairs and an assortment of people occupying them, then there were two tall tables with stools in the very middle. No one else was seated at them. I had the feeling that I needed to be there, where I would be in full plain view.

I crossed the court and seated myself at one of the tables. Then I peeled the plastic lid off my cup, rustled in the little brown paper bag for my donut, took a bite, and sipped a mouthful of coffee. Around me there were all sorts of men, women, youths, and children coming and going, eating and drinking. I saw nothing unusual. Then, after a couple of minutes, I noticed a man watching me.

He was seated in a lounge chair some distance away in one corner of the court, dressed in an elegant long coat and dark dress pants. He appeared to be South Asian and in his forties. I could feel his eyes heavy upon me, but I pretended not to see him.  

Then he stood up. He began to move slowly in a broad arc around the food court like a predatory cat, closing the circle until he finally arrived on the other side of the table from me. 

“Excuse me,” he said. 

I pretended to see him for the first time. “Yes?”  

“I wonder if you can answer a question for me.” His eyes were dark and intense. 

I smiled and looked at him, slightly puzzled, but curious. “Certainly—what is it?”

He was silent a moment. 

“Six months ago, my nephew died in New York,” he said quietly. “He was only twenty-five years old, but he was doing very well in his career, and just beginning.”

He paused. 

“He was driving his sports car one day when another vehicle hit him. His car caught fire and he couldn’t escape. He burned to death.” 

He drew a breath as he appeared to restrain himself. 

“Why did he die?” he said finally.   

I was stunned. Why was he asking me? 

Then I took a moment and turned my attention inward. I let my body grow light and empty as I did in deep meditation. 

Then words started to flow. 

“It’s not for us to know why,” I said. “Each of us has our time, and it’s only for God to know.” The words were soft with compassion, yet firm.

There was a pause. 

“We come here to fulfil a lesson, or a purpose, and when it has been accomplished, we return to our Source. It’s that simple. But only God knows why. You can be sure that it was your nephew’s time.” 

His eyes grew wet. He nodded knowingly, as though his thoughts had been confirmed. 

“Are you a Hindu?” I asked. 

“I have not practiced for many years,” he said plainly, “but since my nephew died I have thought more about it.”  

He had worked in private finance and enjoyed a wealthy lifestyle for many years. The randomness of his nephew’s death, however, had shaken him. It taught him that material wealth guaranteed nothing, and it made him start to question his life. He sold his belongings and left his work. Now he was studying and practicing the teachings of a lesser-known sect of Hindu spiritualism. 

He asked me about my own faith. I described my yogic practice and the lineage of Indian teachers that I followed, and he nodded with recognition at regular intervals. We talked for close to half an hour. Eventually, as I sensed the conversation drawing towards its natural close, I asked him if he would like to exchange phone numbers. 

I knew the answer before he replied.  

“We will leave it to God,” he said quietly. “If God wishes us to meet, then we will surely be brought together when necessary.”

He nodded his head almost imperceptibly as he made the smallest of prayer gestures with his hands. 

“Yes, you are perfectly right,” I said, and I returned the gesture.  

Then he smiled, turned, and left me to finish my coffee and donut. 

It was a good meeting. It left me thinking that I probably shouldn’t be so dismissive about visiting the mall.  

 © James Andrew Grove

2 thoughts on “Encounters at the Mall

  1. Profound and a great example of serendipity and how chance meetings can affect and drive meaning in life.. Reminds me of a Netflix special called the Kindness Diaries which has parallels to your experience. Chance meetings on this special ( there are 2 seasons ), can have significant affects on individuals that are both deserving and heartwarming.

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