“Good Morning”: A Theory

The random encounter with the grumpy woman in the library got me thinking about the 1998 movie Patch Adams. (For the record, I am in disbelief that this movie is thirteen years old.)

Two things came to mind, actually, but the first is the most relevant to this discussion. It was the scene in which Patch tests out his smile theory, claiming that if we take the time to make eye contact and smile at complete strangers it will nearly always result in a reciprocated smile. As Patch and Truman wander around smiling and greeting strangers, we as viewers smile, too. It’s a good scene, even worth rewatching the whole movie for, and since there are no YouTube clips, you’ll either have to do so, or try to conjure up a memory from thirteen years ago, or trust me.

I like this smile theory, and it won’t surprise you to learn that I now have a “good morning” theory I want to test out.

The question I want to answer is this–if I start saying “good morning” to folks at moments when I would rather just walk on by and ignore them, what percentage of those people would respond with a friendly greeting? I’m banking on at least 75%.

I’ve started testing it out, though not very mathematically, nor very successfully. But I’m working on it.

In fact, I’ve realized something already. There are certain strangers with whom we interact that make it natural and practically required to greet in a friendly “good morning” sort of way. Bank tellers, for instance. In these cases, I’ve adjusted the theory to take it one further step. In the cases where a greeting is already expected, I will ask how the person is doing. And not just in an I-don’t-really-want-to-hear-your-answer sort of way. I’ll look at the person and wait for an answer. Patiently.

I have hit some bumps on the road to testing out the theory, but more on that later.

What I’m hoping for are some other thoughtful theory-testers. Yes. That means you.

Are you willing to try it with me? Say “good morning” to just one stranger today? Or two? Or ten? Or ask the check-out person at the pharmacy how he’s doing–and mean it? Or look someone in the eye even when it’s uncomfortable and smile?

Come on. What have you got to lose?

(By the way, for those of you who were wondering what the “second thing” was I mentioned above, well, it was  that difficult scene towards the end when we discover that Patch’s girlfriend Carin has been murdered by someone she was trying to help. Patch feels guilty about this, because he is the one who “taught her the medicine” that ended up resulting in her death. As I thought about this scene, I realized that the medicine he taught her, despite the film’s focus on humor, was not laughter but love. He taught her how to love.)


On Hospitality & Dirty Underwear

Because our first Little Bean arrived two weeks early, we were able to make a trip to the North East to attend a good friend’s wedding. Though I wasn’t sure about embarking on such a long trip in the car, we decided to take it slowly with lots of stops along the way. After all, I knew going into it that it would be more stressful for me than for the Bean. And it was, but it was worth it. She got to meet grandparents and great-grandparents and cousins and lots of friends as we headed to the Cape.

But that journey isn’t what this post is about.

This post is about the fact that we were away from our house for two weeks. And we left the house in a bit of a jumble, as you do when you’re preparing a two-week trip with a five-week-old baby. Not just cluttered messy, but dirt-under-your-bare-feet-on-the-kitchen-floor messy.

A few days into the trip, we received a phone call asking if an out-of-town visitor could stay at our house for a night. While we were gone. From our jumbled house.

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Talking to Strangers (or Jesus)

On Saturday morning, I strapped Little Bean into her stroller and set off on a mission: to buy myself a cup of frou-frou coffee-shop coffee. Lucky for me, we’ve got two small coffee shops in my little town, both within walking distance of my house.

Unlucky for me, both of them were closed on Saturday morning.

A little discouraged, I stood at the corner on Main Street and Hamilton, waiting for the red light to change. A woman stumbled up to the corner, paying no attention to me. She was in sweat pants that looked like pajamas and she seemed tired or worn out or both. When the light changed, Little Bean’s stroller got caught on the curb, so I ended up a few steps behind the woman as we crossed the street.

I heard her groan a bit as if in pain and seemingly begin to mutter to herself.

I assumed–uncharitably–that she was probably suffering from mental illness or intoxication. Maybe she was homeless. I didn’t know, and I chided myself for jumping to conclusions about a stranger.

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On Praying for Strangers

One time when I was a teenager, on the way home from youth group on a Wednesday night, my friend Olivia and I witnessed a car accident at an intersection in inner city Harrisburg. I don’t remember the moments that followed very clearly, but after calling 911, I somehow ended up near one of the cars, leaning in towards a man whose face was covered in blood, asking him if I could pray with him until the emergency vehicles arrived.

I am not normally that kind of praying-for-strangers person.

I'm serious.

The main reason is that most of the time it just doesn’t cross my mind to ask a stranger if I can pray for him or her. I mean, really, how often would that situation arise in normal, everyday interactions without it just being weird?

Well, last Saturday night, we drove out into rural Kentucky with some friends to eat veggie burgers and listen to a Jimmy Buffet tribute band play at a winery. No joke. Jimmy Buffet.

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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.)


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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Truth with a Capital T

You may have seen the viral short video made to accompany the commencement speech given by the very talented late David Foster Wallace in 2005 at Kenyon College. (If Googling this speech, be aware that it has been removed from many sites due to copyright issues and may now be hard to find).

In his speech, Wallace describes a higher education graduate, now working at a challenging job in a large city, who is now officially a part of the rat race, whose principal challenge is not so much the exhaustion of a demanding job, but the tedium of daily existence.

(I’ll qualify here by inserting that I live in a very small town and am a homeschooling stay-at-home mom of three young children, so my daily struggles with finding meaning in tedium look different than those described in Foster’s speech; but nevertheless, I can relate to the frustration of monotony and seemingly small, though necessary, tasks.)

In the slow and maddening check-out line at the store after a long day of work, our graduate is surrounded by overwhelmingly annoying people talking loudly on cell phones, staring into space, screaming at their kids. The way to wake up and arrive at a better existence, Wallace tells us, is just this: to reject our “natural default setting” that the whole world and everything that happens is about us, that we are the center of the world.

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More on Those Hands & Feet

When I say that a missional life is one in which we are to be “the hands and feet of Jesus” in the world, like I did in my last post, I assume everyone knows what I mean.

Feet go places, and so we should go. Across the street to our elderly neighbor’s home, maybe, or across the hall to a mourning coworker’s office, or across town to the park that has a chronic litter problem.

Hands do things, and so we should do things. Extend our hands to touch those who have been deemed unclean, maybe, or get our hands dirty and make some mud to heal blindness.

I’m pretty sure that’s right, but I think it’s more than that, too.

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