Advent 1: Saint John of the Mall

Nancy and I started walking at the mall a few winters back. It saved our lives.

That sounds dramatic, like it kept us from a heart attack. For all we know, it has. But we started talking every day while we walked. And since then, we’ve weathered a variety of life events. Deaths of parents, job changes, kids in college, kids in weddings. We’re still talking and walking.

Like I said, it saved our lives.

starting 8th year of walking.We were walking at the mall early one Black Saturday. It was a way to avoid the crowds that would show up later. On our first lap, we saw a guy sitting on a bench not far from Starbucks. Just sitting. He had a white beard, but not the usual Christmas white beard. It had the look of necessity, not choice. And he was much thinner than the usual bearded holiday hero.

But his eyes.

I’ve seen the eyes of people who sit in the mall. There is distractedness. There is pain. There is a sense of resignation or worry or lostness.

This man’s eyes were different. There was an intensity. And affection.

He was looking into an empty section of the hallway as if he was looking at a friend or a holiday memory. It was a little scary, actually. I’ve seen that look in the eyes of people who were hallucinating. But when we were passing his bench, he glanced at us. And the eye contact made it clear: he was fully present.

We walked our second lap and stopped to get a cup of coffee to take home.

I knew the barista from years ago.

“Who is that guy? Do you know anything about him?“ I asked.

Brenda laughed. “We call him Saint John of the Mall. I think you need to talk to him sometime.”