By Jennifer Richardson
Years ago we took a family trip to St. Louis and had a wonderful time. We saw some beautiful sights, enjoyed some great food, and spent time with family and friends. We enjoyed a visit to a great museum, swam in the hotel pool, and absorbed the sights and sounds and special joys of somewhere different.
One of the places we visited was a huge shopping mall. We saw shopping opportunities for every kind of thing you might want to purchase. Beautiful displays of clothing, shoes, and decorations called for our attention through walls of shiny glass windows.
There were many stores filled with household items, so many that it was difficult to imagine where a person would keep everything if you could afford to buy it all.
Down every walkway were large colorful signs and posters that seemed to offer beauty, satisfaction, and happiness in return for the small offering of payment for whatever was within.
There were amazing experiences like an indoor bungee-jump and a huge colorful carousel with painted horses and smiling children. There was a pet store which delighted my animal-loving daughter. We ended up with another occupant in the car on the way home, a hamster she named Bugsy.
Even the food court was impressive. Several options for our culinary needs and an enormous seating area for hundreds of patrons greeted us as we strolled by.
The mall was filled with a relentless background of conversation, laughing, and raised voices. Even the movement of the throngs of people had its own sound; the swish of fabric and shoes came in waves of hundreds of arms and legs. There was music in every inch of the place, and songs engineered to produce happy shoppers overlapped each other as we wandered past each storefront. In the midst of it all, I stopped to rest at a table while Robert took the kids for a turn at the go-kart track.
My thoughts turned to people-watching as I looked around me. There were the young couples that were back and forth between humor and exhaustion as they pushed strollers with small children. There were teenagers using every kind of digital communication device and just hanging out and having fun.
There were older folks gathered to enjoy each other’s company. There were ladies shopping in teams. There were focused, die-hard shoppers, alone and loaded down with bags and boxes.
And in the middle of it all, a group of people caught my eye. I hadn’t noticed them before because they were seated at a table designed for children so it was shorter than the rest. It was a father and three children.
All the children were staring intently at their father, who was also seated in a tiny children’s chair—reading a book to them. In the midst of the cacophony of noise, people, sights was a father simply reading to his children.
He read to them for almost forty-five minutes. I watched their little faces, and their expressions told the story, by turns they were smiling, frowning, and laughing, but always with rapt attention. I could not take my eyes off of the small group until they were packing up their bags of snacks and departing.
In this backdrop of constant commotion, it was amazing to see a family taking time to do something as simple as reading books. It was interesting to me that this father chose the bustling mall as his location for this particular family activity. One message he was sending was that reading is still great, even in the midst of many other entertainment choices.
And, perhaps the more subtle lesson he was teaching had nothing to do with the books he was reading. Those children will grow up reading and learning to focus despite distraction. They may not remember the details of the stories they heard that day, but they will have absorbed that circumstances should not dictate what voices we hear. No matter what is happening around us, we can choose to let our hearts be quiet, turn away from all the noise, and listen and learn.