The line included the usual suspects; a man with his daughter, a construction worker, a woman somewhere in her thirties with a funky hair-do and the lady behind me in a business suit. Everyone was shifting back and forth in aggravation for the fact that the line wasn’t moving as fast as it normally does. Some people were sizing each other up out of personal entertainment while others were looking ahead or looking down, perhaps to avoid catching eye contact with their neighbors. The little girl in front of me was peeking at me around her father’s legs and hiding behind him again and again. She was adorable so I gave her a wink and looked away when I realized she became shy.
There was an elderly man who just paid for his coffee and was on his way to taking a seat when he noticed the little girl in front of me and said hello. He explained how he used to love staying in bed on cold days like these when he was her age. He looked up to her father and me and told us that his first job was working in a cotton mill about 40 years and that he made 90 cents per hour. He told us how he tried to retire three times but doesn’t like staying in the house. As he was sharing his story with us the lady behind me stepped aside and looked at us and rolled her eyes as if the man was a bother. I was questioning myself as to why some people are so annoyed when a nice stranger sparks up a random conversation in public. I understand that many of us already have our minds loaded early in the morning with thoughts of how to best organize our day or how to tackle the workload that is waiting for us at our desks at work and that it takes a tiny bit of energy to extend ourselves beyond our own thoughts to share a quick hello or small conversation with a complete stranger. My question is what harm could it do?
If I am having a hectic morning or even at the end of a challenging day, I will still never snub someone who takes the initiative to say hello or share their thoughts for a moment. Imagine how much less stressed we would be if we could just talk to each other without fear of getting shunned. I can’t tell you how many times I have been in line at the grocery store and attempted to talk to the person in front of me or behind me and have had responses ranging from a quick, uneasy smile to looks of utter disgust.
I was in South Carolina for a week back in 1997 for a wedding. I ventured out one night to a piano bar with my friend and we sat at the bar that was completely empty at the time. We had been chitchatting about life for about twenty minutes when a couple entered the bar. The woman sat down right next to me and her husband next to her. I looked at my friend as if to say, How weird. We have no privacy now- how uncomfortable! The couple started talking to us and we soon started sharing our own funny stories with each other. Believe me when I state that the night was absolutely spectacular. We planned on hitting a few spots that night but we ended up talking to this couple for hours. When it was time to say good-bye, the woman said that she is usually very wary about talking so freely with people from New England because she hasn’t had many friendly experiences. She was pleased that we were “different” and that she and her husband had such a great time that night. After walking out of the door, I explained to my friend how embarrassed I was about not wanting to sit next to this couple at the beginning of the night and swore that I would always respond to friendly people.
I know that it is possible for us to care about each other as human beings once again and show a little mutual respect for strangers no matter what they look like or where they come from. Why? The question is, why not? If everyone just says hello (out loud) to one person, once a day this world would be a happier place. Hold the door open for the person behind you. Think twice about showing off your driving skills and cutting off the person in the next lane by a gnat’s eyelash. Say please and thank you- especially to the person standing out in the freezing cold ringing a bell for hours in hopes that you will drop a hard-earned penny into the can for the Salvation Army. Give to charity when you can. These few acts of kindness take very little time and if you don’t do things like these for other people, at least do it for yourself. Do it for your children to give them faith in humanity. Do it for your mother who raised you to respect other people. Do it for religious reasons. Do it even if you don’t want to and see how you feel when that person looks at you with respect. It’s the season of giving and the economy is difficult. Many people are stressed that they cannot buy everything they want to for their friends and loved ones, so let’s go back to basics and realize what this season is really all about… caring for other people.