I can’t seem to get myself psyched for extreme bike riding during this summer of unending rainfalls, so my fitness routine has mostly been long walks through the neighborhood. Somehow the rain doesn’t seem as irritating when you’re tromping through it rather than pedaling along and getting a mud stripe up your back.
I love my neighborhood, but one thing bothers me – the deliberate, mindful way in which some people look away from each other when they cross paths. It’s not mean-spirited; it’s just a manifestation of living in a city full of strangers. It’s also a byproduct of being plugged in to our phones or iPods. We live in an age now where it’s more acceptable to live in our own private worlds.
That was my comfort zone too, but spending the winter western Texas changed all that. We moved into a 200,000 acre wilderness area where the nearest town (of 300 people) was 20 miles away. Most houses near us were so far away that they looked like specks at the edge of the road. There were plenty of “No Trespassing” signs posted on many fences. We were gently warned that many of our neighbors were reclusive, so I was careful not to say hello or strike up a conversation with anyone I met on my hikes.
But on most days when I was out on the trail, people would walk right up and say hello first. If we were taking a water break on our bikes, they’d pull up and ask if we needed help, and when we said we were fine, they’d ask where we were from and share their tips about the best hiking and biking routes. If we were looking lost while we picked our way through the local town, someone would catch our eye and ask us if we needed directions. Every driver we passed on the road waved. Without fail.
That little spark of hello can have a magical effect on your reality. In some ways, I felt more connected to the community there where I’d spent a few short months than I do here where I’ve lived for 13 years. It made me feel so good that I’ve decided to keep that spark going.
So lately I’ve been saying hello to just about everyone I encounter on my daily travels. Sad to say, most of the time, people look a little stunned. Some say hello back, some say nothing and look away. I think it’s because when you live in a city, you get into this mindset that you don’t say hello to anyone you don’t know. I know there are good reasons for that, particularly for children, but for us grownups, the choice is always in our own hands.
Saying hello first doesn’t take any effort. It doesn’t mean you want to go steady. Just be the first to say hello, that’s all. It makes me feel uncomfortable at times because I’m still wired to mind my own business. But I am resolved to continue saying hello first, especially when I see people who are by themselves and looking a little worse for the wear. Share good energy with someone and it comes right back to you.