Those arching doors spread above you as if you’re entering a palace, but it’s not. Instead, they swallow you up, and you’re lost.
With a sweep of air, the mall doors close. Your feet find stone, smooth and spreading so far it disappears. But you don’t really look that far anyway. Instead you see a dozen other doors, all opening from this passage. And inside them are lights flashing, smells bursting, noise rustling.
Children run by, screaming. They dart into one of the stores and are hidden behind rows of clothes and shoes and purses.
There are a hundred other people in the mall, just like you. But none of them see. They walk and talk and point and are consumed by the noise and lights. In their eyes, you see reflections of glitter as they carry purses and raise their painted faces.
As you walk through the hall, they brush your shoulder. Someone runs past you and darts to keep from tripping. They don’t see you though. All those eyes are turned downward when your gaze meets their face. They rush into stores and hide in dressing rooms. They spend money and go on all the rides. And then they grab a meal and leave, never really opening their eyes to what’s around them.
But you do.
You see them. You see that woman with sunken cheeks who tries to hide it by makeup. She carries a bag on each arm and eases herself onto the escalator. When she rises, she only holds onto the bag and stares straight ahead.
And you see that man, the way he brushes a hand through his hair and eats from a steaming platter. But his face is turned towards the merry-go-round where children grasp onto silvery poles and giggle on the hard horses that turn for the thousandth time. You wonder what he thinks as he sees them. If he remembers those days when he was allowed to play, to dream.
Or that couple who laughs as they push their baby in a stroller. They run through all the mall's shops and eat all the food and see all the lights. But when they pause, those smiles fade. The façade slips. And you see the lines in their forehead. The way the woman turns her face from her husband’s. His shoulders falling. Her lips tightening.
They all have stories. You try to see them, wonder what their life truly holds. The sunken cheeks—do they tell tales of long nights by a hospital bed, begging for someone to give a different answer? Or the eyes watching the merry-go-round spin—do they remember a time when another child laughed and played before he grew old and left home? The hesitating smiles—behind closed doors, do they turn to tears?
But no one sees them. No one knows. And even if they did, no one would care.
It builds in you like a volcano. A wildfire burns in your chest, and you want to run, to shout, to scream. To tell them that there’s hope. That they have a purpose. That they are loved.
Because if you don’t, will they never know? What if you’re the only person that can tell them?
But your feet clasp onto the hard ground. In a crowd of a thousand, you are one small voice. On a beach of sand, you are one grain trying to shove the waves away.
Shoulders brush yours. Eyes glance past you. Voices dance around you.
But they never know you’re there. When you slip out of those arching doors, they don’t know. Their lives go on, living in those flashing lights until they too must slip out of the make-believe world they think is real.
And then they feel it.
The cold. The shadows of a night where no stars shine. Leaving behind the smells and tastes to return to the real world where life is hard, and pain is real.
When that happens, will they remember to hope?
You trudge through the grime on the sidewalks and step onto the road. There are puddles lining the cement, leaves littering the ground. Your feet get wet as you find your car. Ice has settled on the windshield, or maybe it’s just the dew that stiffens like the coldness inside you.
Your hand finds the key, but it freezes your fingers. When you look back at the mall doors, you see through them to the noises and laughter and fake smiles.
And the tears fall because you were there and couldn’t save them or tell them the truth. Even if you did, would they listen?
A car’s light flash beside you. You stop. Open the door. Slip into the cold again.
There’s someone there, a woman trying to open the car door with slipping gloves. Her hands stumble. She lets out her breath, leans against the car, and her hair slips into her eyes.
You step forward and open the door for her. For a second, your eyes meet, and they really see.
She nods, smiles. That time, it isn’t fake.
And then you part. She drives through the darkness; you slip back into the car. As the key turns, you stop and remember.
You are one grain on a shore of a billion, and you can’t stop the waves from breaking. But maybe, in that moment, you helped one grain of sand escape just a step further away.
Even though the lights will flash and blind so many, maybe you can love just one. Perhaps a hug or one small word could bring the hope that one aching soul needs.
The car turns off. You enter the cold and run.
Run through the puddles. Run towards those arching doors. You let them swallow you up. Even with those empty hands, you face the enemy and fight because nothing can stop you, and you have a purpose bigger than those lights and empty faces.
It’s not because of who you are. A grain of sand can’t fight the coming storm. But you hear this voice calling you to something bigger, something grander than what the world says you can do.
I am with you.
So you fight.