“Good Morning” Update: Two Categories of People

Yesterday I had two people completely ignore me when I said “Good morning” to them. The most reasonable excuse is that neither heard me, but I was having one of those days when I wanted to respond by getting right in their faces and saying, “I’m having a bad day, too! Get over yourself!”

I didn’t, of course. Instead, I went into Starbucks and greeted a custodian, who offered a smile and a friendly response. She seemed delighted that I had stopped and asked her how she was instead of just breezing by her on my way to the bathroom.

Most of the time, regardless of whom we greet, a “Good morning” elicits a response of some shape or form, even if it is just a smile. And, in my experience, a “How are you?” (if an answer is waited for patiently) elicits a “Fine” at the very least, and often–very often–a reciprocal query about my well-being or day.

But getting ignored yesterday morning got me to thinking, and as is typical of me, I’ve begun to theorize about it.

Here’s a generalization that I think holds true for us as average Americans:

There are two categories of people that we ignore on a regular basis. The first is people like us. The second is people not like us.

One of the purposes of the “Good morning” exercise is to break us out of the habit of ignoring people, regardless of which category they fall into.

Here’s something interesting. In my experience so far, the people I am most likely not to receive a response from are from that first category of people–those like me.

And the people with whom I am most likely to have an extended conversation as a result of my greeting are those unlike me.

Consider this example.

This morning I encountered a uniformed worker of some sort in the library bathroom. I couldn’t tell if she was a custodial worker or a security guard, but I think security of some kind. Regardless, she would fall into the category of “those unlike me.” Remember that I am someone who gets paid to go to school. I get paid to do research and chat with people about stuff they’ve written. I pick and choose my freelance projects, and I feel fortunate to have the amount of work I want to do, when I want to do it. Most of the time I complain about this situation, but let’s just say, I am nearly as spoiled as they come.

This woman, I would venture a guess, does not have these privileges I complain about.

When she came into the bathroom, I was thinking solely about myself, how fluffy my hair looked this morning, to be precise, and I wasn’t in much of a mood to be friendly. But I thought a “good morning” would suffice to fulfill my obligation to a stranger in close proximity to myself, and what was the chance I’d get much more than a quick response? Well, what is the chance?

“I’m SO EXCITED!” was not the expected response. (She held out the word “excited” in a sing-songy way, the sort of way I do it when I am really excited.)

I paused and looked at her. For real? Or was she pulling my chain like the airport security guy, and when I questioned her, she would just say, “No, not really.”

Nope, she actually looked excited. I thought it was sincere. So I said, “Really? Why?”

“I’m leaving for vacation tomorrow! I can’t wait! And I only work a half-day today! I can hardly focus on my work!” (Let me emphasize that the exclamation points do not do justice to how excited this woman was about her upcoming vacation.)

She had apparently only come into the bathroom to wash her hands, so she was already headed back to the door by this time. When I said goodbye to her and wished her a good trip, I was genuinely delighted for her, this woman unlike me.

And yet, of course, like me.

Because that’s the moral of this story.

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“Good Morning”: Stories #2, 3, 4 & 5

Here are a handful of amusing stories from my  “good morning” campaign so far:

The first time I decided to try out the theory was last week when I was visiting my parents in Pennsylvania. It was one of those days that I was pretending to be a runner, so I decided that if I passed anyone on my jog, I would greet that person in an exceptionally friendly manner. I got about two blocks away when voila! a woman, a little boy, and a dog approached on the other side of the street. “Good morning!” I yelled. “Good morning,” came the reply. And then, as I looked a little bit closer, trying to decide if I should continue the conversation, both the woman and I realized at the same moment that we knew each other. Yes. She wasn’t a stranger at all, actually, but one of my stepmom’s closest friends. Apparently she works near there and happened to be out for a stroll.

Alas.

Then, the next morning, I decided to be friendly as I went through airport security. “Good morning,” I said to the security guard as I handed him my ID and boarding pass. (No matter how many times I do this, I always have an irrational fear Continue reading

“Good Morning”: Story #1

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.” Continue reading

Driving Alone to Music City, part 1

When I drive by myself, even when I drive very long distances, I often don’t turn on the radio or listen to music. Even when I drove the fifteen or whatever hours from central Texas to central Kentucky, following behind the Penske in our little car, most of the time I just sat there, thinking. (I also took the time to memorize the Nicene Creed because I happened to have a church bulletin nearby and thought it was about time I’d done so.)

So last Sunday, a few short hours after posting a sabbath meditation about community memory and after drinking more hot tea than I should have, I hopped into our hatchback and drove down to Nashville to surprise a dear friend celebrating her birthday.

It’s a relatively easy 4-hour drive because it only involves two roads: the Bluegrass Parkway and I-65. Here’s the problem I encountered: I really had to go to the bathroom pretty soon after getting onto the parkway. For quite a long time I held out hope that there would be a rest area; this is, after all, a major artery across Kentucky. No such luck. At the point where I was finally willing to stop ANYWHERE–any shady-looking gas station even–there were no more exits with amenities. One of the last exits had one of the blue “food” and “fuel” signs but it was completely blank, as if to taunt me.

Needless to say, I was in dire straights. After merging onto I-65, I took the very first exit I came to and miraculously made it to the restroom. Emergency averted. I decided to go ahead and get gas at this station before getting back on the road.

As someone I know and love says, “I told you that story, so I could tell you this story.”

On my way into this gas station, I saw a pile of duffle bags sitting out by the pay phones at the edge of the parking lot. Propped on those duffle bags was a cardboard sign, “Headed to TN.” My bladder was controlling my emotions at that point, so this all barely registered with me. But as I got gas, I looked over at the bags again, saw the sign again, and felt a tinge inside my chest. I was headed to Tennessee. (I honestly don’t remember if there was an actual person near these bags or not–maybe he or she was on the phone? I can’t remember, and it doesn’t really matter to the story.)

So I felt this odd feeling inside me, and I quickly shoved it to the side. I’m a single woman driving alone for many hours. A hitchhiker might be a murderer or a rapist. My husband was sitting in church at that very moment, and if there was an emergency, I’d have nobody to contact. The person I was driving to meet didn’t know I was coming, since it was a surprise. It wasn’t a good time, I was in a hurry, and I’m not irresponsible. What kind of a person hitchhikes these days anyway, right? Right. I paid for my gas and then followed the signs to get me back onto I-65.

Almost immediately after I got back on the highway–remember that I tend to just sit and think when I’m driving alone–I started thinking about my sabbath meditation of the day, the Wendell Berry quote that ended with these two lines: “If they do not know one another’s stories, how can they know whether or not to trust one another? People who do not trust one another do not help one another, and moreover they fear one another.”

Moreover, they fear one another.

I don’t want to sound like I’m being dramatic about this, and it’s really pretty hard for me even to write about it at a week’s distance, but as I drove down I-65, my eyes filled with tears, my throat tightened, and I couldn’t help but cry. Right there in my car, driving down the highway.

It is hard to be the people we want to be.

It is hard to be community to perfect strangers.

It is hard to admit when you’ve been a hypocrite.

Now I know what you’re thinking. “E,” you’re thinking, “you weren’t being hypocritical. You were being sensible. I wouldn’t have wanted you to stop and pick up a perfect stranger. It’s just not safe.”

Well, for one, Jesus didn’t call us to be safe, not one of us.

For two, being community can mean a lot of things. Saying hello, offering a cup of coffee, just not pretending that someone doesn’t exist. That’s what we usually do with hitchhikers or people asking us for money. And we make excuses about how unsafe it would be to help someone, how the money would just go to alcohol or other bad habits, how they’re probably making tons of money on the side and choosing to pretend to be poor.

Well, maybe so. Maybe so.

But If [we] do not know one another’s stories, how can [we] know whether or not to trust one another? People who do not trust one another do not help one another, and moreover they fear one another.

Lessons from the Land Without Dishwashers (#3)

You may have heard about the interesting group of folks known to us as the “desert fathers and mothers” (or abbas and ammas). Early monastic Christians, the abbas and ammas lived out in the desert either in solitude or in small enclave communities. What has been passed on to us from the third and fourth century through various sources are their “sayings.” These appear as stories from their lives that still offer spiritual guidance to us through the use of Scripture and practical wisdom. (See, for example, Benedicta Ward’s compilation The Desert Fathers: Sayings of the Early Christian Monks. You can even “search inside” at Amazon.)

To our ears–and to our lives–these ancient sayings often seem odd, impractical, and quaint. But they’re really rather revolutionary.

Still, what could they possibly have to do with dishwashers?

I’m so glad you asked.

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Consigning Myself to Conversations

I love my child dearly but I really don’t like to spend money on clothing or shoes for her. She’s been growing like a weed her whole 15-month-long life and finally has arrived at the 95th percentile for height. (This shocks nobody, of course, considering her gargantuan parents.)

consignmentshoes

Recently, the girl was in desperate need of some shoes, and I decided I could no longer continue sending her to the church nursery in socks. So I asked a good friend to come over during the bean’s naptime, and I headed to one of our local consignment stores.

I anticipated–correctly–that it would have been difficult to sort through bin after bin after disorganized bin of shoes with a one-year-old toddling around the store.

I found myself on my knees, my third or fourth bin in front of me on the floor, trying to figure out whether Little Bean’s chubby feet would fit in each pair I liked.  A woman about my age hunkered down beside me to look through shoes. I greeted her in some way, friendly enough, and continued digging.

I’ve mentioned before how strangers talk to me. By “talk,” I don’t just mean “Hi, how are you?” I mean full-on conversations, even when I feel like I am responding as minimally as possible, when I’m not really in a mood to be a conversationalist, when I’m not in the mood for community.

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Greasy Spoons, Burnt Toast, & Waitresses Who Know You

Greasy SpoonsMy friend Patti took me out for my birthday last week and we went to our mutual favorite greasy spoon restaurant (of which Texas Schmexas has sung praises in the past–here and here).

Patti’s pretty great. She recently became a proud grandma, in addition to being just a grand mama; she’s one of those really crafty people who can make a piece of paper turn into a work of art with a few folds and hand-press thingers; she’s one of my fellow odd ducks who meet monthly to share our writing; and she’s a lover of our local greasy spoon.

She meets there regularly with friends. Weekly, I believe.

She meets there often enough that the waitress who served us last week knew her.

Which is where this story really begins.

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