There is a woman, whose office is down the hall from mine, who greets me with a bright, “Hey, Amy! How are you!” every time she sees me. We run into each other at least three times a day, often more, and she never fails to greet me personally with enthusiastic cheer. It was a year and a half before I even learned her name.
My office-hallway-buddy always puts me in mind of a dear friend of mine. Whenever we are out in the world together, she never refrains from greeting others we pass on the street. Frequently, this means a brief interruption of our conversation to look up, or aside, and say, “Hello!” before returning her attention back to me. It annoys me, and I love her so much for it. Because my friend doesn’t smile and say hello the way you and I do. She doesn’t have that reserved-for-strangers smile that barely moves the corners of the lips, the non-smile you and I rely on to let strangers know we’re not rude, exactly, but we’re not interested in them, either. Her smile overtakes her entire being. It colonizes her whole face, as if her mouth were planting a flag that said, “This land is claimed in the name of joy.” I swear to you, it shines. You could read by this smile. And the “hello”? It’s no mere throw-away. It’s warm and rich and golden-scented, swaddled by the joy and grace of her smile. It’s like a box of puppies, a bouquet of early spring flowers, the scent of a clean, warm baby, the feeling of being tucked in at night after having just heard your favorite bedtime story three times in a row. It is lovingkindness distilled into two syllables.
I’ve developed a habit of looking into the faces of the strangers we pass as my friend says hello to them. Invariably, I see a flash of astonished delight. There is so much that is wonderful in that hello, but at it’s heart, it is a vulnerable and unprotected offering of human connection. These connections are rare in life, and to receive such a thing from a stranger on the street is a true gift. It is the sort of thing that can change the trajectory of a day, or a week. Its glow can warm a heart for a very long time.
I wrote above that my friend’s habit of saying hello annoys me, though this is really only partly true. I don’t have my friend’s natural capacity for kindness, her outward orientation, her innate desire to love and serve and protect. My natural posture is one that points inward, and this makes my default tone of interaction with the world one that ranges from neutral to rude and impatient. Sort of a Resting Bitch Face of the soul. When I’m with my friend, mostly I just want her to pay attention to my stories and laugh at my jokes. So, when she turns her attention away for a fraction of a second, the little spoiled dance brat in my brain throws a tantrum. “Nooo! Pay attention to meeee!” At the same time, I am in awe of my friend’s open-heartedness, and working to ignore that stupid brat. I do not have my friend’s gift for kindness, but her constant (unknowing) example is teaching me to practice it.