A few days ago, as I was about to enter the library stairwell at the University where I work, I saw a short, stout, white-haired, grumpy-looking woman leaning on a cane. (I include “grumpy-looking” as an adjective because it is important to the story.)
Now, in general, you should know something about me: I often say hello to strangers. Part of the reason I do this is, quite frankly, because I realize that my instinct is just the opposite–to avoid saying hello to strangers. Based on what I see all around me, I am pretty sure it’s the instinct of most folks these days. I blame it, in part, on the fear-mongering of the mass media, those folks who think it’s more important to make us fear our neighbors, especially the less fortune ones, than reach out to them. I could rant about this for quite some time, but I will refrain. My point is that I recognize my own anxiety regarding strangers and am working to combat it by reaching out in the most basic of ways–saying “Hello.”
Or, in the case of the grumpy-looking woman, “Good morning.”
When I did, she turned and looked at me and her entire demeanor changed. Her eyes lit up, she stood up a little higher, she smiled, and then she echoed my greeting: “Good morning.”
“How are you today?” I asked, still crossing through the room.
“Fine, and you?”
“I’m well, thanks. Have a good one!” (By then I had reached the stairwell and headed up to the fifth floor, where the Writing Center lives.)
I’m not trying to claim that my greeting completely changed this woman’s course in life, let alone her day. Maybe she went back to grumpiness as soon as I was out of sight.
But the complete transformation of expression that occurred simply by addressing her directly, rather than passing on by and pretending I didn’t even see her there, well, it got me to thinking.
More on that soon.