Just Say Hello

Visitors from other countries or out-of-towners often remark that Californians, despite their casual manner, are not all that friendly. And they offer as proof the absence of greetings or smiles when they pass people on the sidewalk. I can’t remember just when I decided to buck this trend. But I remember making a decision to greet oncoming pedestrians. I knew it would make me feel better. And I hoped people would respond positively.

Then, once I discovered seeing small, I began taking in the pleasure of particularly warm greetings and smiles. These usually occur in response to my initial “hello,” and I understand them as gratitude for being acknowledged. We’ve all experienced the joy of feeling seen as we walk along feeling anonymous, and a stranger greets us. If we pay attention to that sudden uplift, we can prolong that surge of pleasure, allowing it to spread throughout our body.

My pleasure in greeting and being greeted by fellow walkers increased during the Covid lockdown. At that time, these were the only other people I encountered, outside of family and a few close friends. In those days, we were all so frightened of getting sick that we cut a wide swath around anyone heading in our direction–which usually meant one of us stepping into the street—so an hello, or even nod of the head felt like connection.

Now, on my morning walks with Frank, I make it a point to greet every single person I encounter. Some continue gazing straight ahead—usually men. Some nod, some mumble “hello” as they pass. But others slow briefly, look directly at me, and offer a full-bellied greeting. My hope is that in addition to feeling good myself, I’m helping everyone I encounter start their day on a positive note.

I had thought I’d explored the terrain of greeting fairly thoroughly until yesterday, when a woman coming toward me and I smiled and said hello at exactly the same time. For a moment, we were singing together, in harmony, her higher-pitched voice and my alto meeting, then floating into the air around us.

Most of my life I’d longed to join a choral group where my voice would be one of many. But I could never really carry a tune, so I’d accepted that my longing would remain unfulfilled. Then I discovered the Living Room Choir, which in the Ubuntu Tradition, welcomes all to join together and sing for all occasions. At long last I experienced my voice as one of many, held aloft by all those singing around me.

Yesterday felt like a microcosm of singing with the Living Room Choir. A stranger walks toward me on a sidewalk in North Berkeley, in the relative silence of early morning. When we are within a few feet of one another, as if a conductor had raised her baton, smiles play upon both our mouths, and we voice in unison and in union, “Hello,” nod slightly and continue on our ways.

That’s all. And that’s everything.

Moroccan Wall

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