Today when I was leaving the gym (I say that like I go to the gym every day…) in our little town in North Carolina, an elderly woman was walking toward me.
“Hello!” she said, her whole face lighting up, like we were old friends.
“Good morning!” I answered back, looking her right in the eye.
Gosh it feels good to be greeted — and to greet. It feels good to look people in the eye and have them look back at you. That part of me was suppressed when I lived in Brooklyn, N.Y., for nearly a year.
“Don’t talk to people on the subway. Don’t talk to people in elevators,” my girlfriend, a life-long Brooklynite schooled me when I moved there. She especially encouraged me not to look the crazy ones in the eye, like the woman on the subway who was screeching “Ma ma sa, ma ma coo sa,” leaving out all the rest of the lyrics to Michael Jackson’s “Wannabe Startin’ Somethin’.” I was happy to stare at my feet that day.
But one day, I just had to break down and tell a woman waiting for the train that I loved her scarf. She melted when I said it. She touched it, pulled it close to her face, then told me the story of how her daughter had brought it back for her from Russia. I found out she was from Trinidad, that she had lived in New York City for 20 years. When I think back to that interaction, I can feel her smile.
I lived most of my life in Iowa. In my home state, we greet each other. We strike up conversations with strangers — yes, even in elevators. That’s not to say we climb into cars with strangers, that we’re naive, that we don’t know that bad things happen. But I think it’s true that most of us ‘trust’ first.
In the simple “hello” of a stranger this morning, I was reminded of the courage it takes to greet one another — especially when we’re strangers. The woman this morning had to be willing to have me dismiss her greeting. I’m grateful she didn’t allow fear to get the best of her.
By finding the courage to say “hello,” she made my day.