Recently, I needed some shampoo, so I rode my bike to the local Target. I live in a crowded working-class area, and the street that runs through my neighborhood is populated with small businesses.
Coasting down the avenue, I noticed that about 20 percent of the stores had gone under, while another third were visibly struggling. The remaining half appeared fine, but I knew from talking to the owners that they were hurting as well.
I rode by a tiny storefront church that was packed, even on a Saturday night. Other businesses passed in a blur — an adult video store, a Latino supermarket, a community theater.
At the Target I spent awhile in the vast shampoo aisle, obsessing over which brand to buy. Afterward, I went over to the adjacent little food court and sat down to people-watch for a bit before heading home.
In front of me, a young woman was talking loudly with her friend about Barack Obama. She spoke with big gestures, making her point, and I noticed a large tattoo in fancy script on her shoulder that read, “Truly Blessed.”
I looked to my left, where an East Indian family quietly sipped their Starbucks. The women wore saris, and they had a baby with tiny gold bracelets on her chubby wrists. On my right was a couple chatting in Spanish, while their little boy happily ate pizza.
I worry a lot about the economy. The struggling stores in my neighborhood are a microcosm of businesses across America, and it pains me to see so many people in trouble. I hold strong opinions about the policies enacted by our government, and I deeply hope that my fears about the future are unfounded.
But what happened to the other side? What about the America that people don’t mention as much anymore? In 45 minutes on a random day, in a tiny piece of a random city, I experienced so much of what makes this country great.
Whether you want to practice your religion, engage in pornography, open a supermarket or experience the arts, all of those choices are available here. And the options continue; I’ve visited countries where an average-sized market is smaller than the shampoo section at Target.
As for other rights, it’s the same story. Given the lack of freedom in so many nations, we’re incredibly fortunate to be able to talk politics as loudly as we want in public places.
America is still a destination for immigrants from all over the world, and hundreds of millions of people, including my own grandparents, have benefited from the amazing opportunities here.
Amid this economic time, it’s so easy to forget a fundamental truth written on the shoulder of a young girl. We are truly blessed. Each of us, every day. I’m hoping I can remember that without a tattoo.