When I was four years old I got lost at the shopping mall. I’ve written about this before but while history may not exactly repeat itself it often rhymes, and the present changes how we see the past. What happened is my mother was shopping for clothes and I was trying to make the sleeves of shirts and jackets talk and I also discovered that I could squeeze in between clothes on a circular rack and be completely surrounded by gray and navy jackets, and if I spun around and around I wouldn’t know where I came in, so when I came out I just sort of zigzagged off into the mall. What I distinctly remember, though, is that I was never scared. I understood what happened. I was concerned and definitely wanted to find my mother, and even when outside thinking she might be out there. And I thought maybe I could find her car and stand next to it, but I gave up on that when I realized I couldn’t remember where we’d parked. So I went back in and asked a woman who worked at the store if she could help me, and she let me sit behind a cash register while she called the store detective and he found my mother. As I said I was never scared. It was actually kind of exciting, and the calm way all the adults I spoke to acted and spoke to me without being condescending was reassuring. We might have just been hanging out together, and I think before my mother and I left I thanked them and added, “You must come and see us in Cape Cod this August.” And this wasn’t long after another big event in my life. We’d just moved to a new house, and that was exciting too. It wasn’t a dramatic move. My parents moved from a pretty nice house in one suburban Nashville neighborhood to another pretty nice, but much larger, house in another suburban Nashville neighborhood. I could be excited because my parents were happy to be moving, they wanted to move, and I understood that. It was an adventure. The first night in the new house I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor of my new bedroom which seemed enormous without any furniture, and still seemed enormous after the bed and bookshelves were put in. The first time I went out to explore the backyard it was wild and overgrown with weeds and I put my bare foot in the middle of a thistle the size of Delaware because I was looking around and not down. Not long after we moved in my parents would clear away the weeds and one old tree, leaving behind a spindly oak that cast a strange shadow like heads swaying back and forth on my bedroom wall.
I can’t explain why but recent events made me think about moving to a new home, how easy it was. My parents were able to check out their new home before they decided to move. They weren’t worried about being welcome in the neighborhood. After all they’re white. So am I. When I got lost at the mall I was a minor but not a minority.
For a long time when I remembered that time I was lost I thought how lucky I was, but it was more than just luck, unless you count the . There were countless circumstances that gave me an advantage. The woman who worked at the mall had some strong words for my mother but that was the worst that happened.
When I see kids being taken from their families I can’t imagine what they’re going through. To even try I’d have to consider almost every aspect of my own experience and reverse it. What would it be like to have parents who had to leave difficult and uncertain circumstances in hopes of finding something better, to be taken away from those parents because of a new policy, to be locked in a cage.
It’s difficult to imagine how that would feel, but still easier than trying to understand why.