The Art of Saying Hello
There is an “art” that is fast becoming extinct in our society. It is an art that my Dad had mastered prior to his death, and one that I try to practice every day. It is the art of saying “hello”. Chuckle at the notion, if you will, but let me ask you a few questions: When was the last time that you acknowledged the presence of a passerby, either by way of a nod, or even a glimpse in their direction?
Let’s take it a step further. When was the last time that you said hello to a perfect stranger you may have encountered, say, in the supermarket, or in a parking lot? When you walk into Starbucks, a gas/food mart, or a department store, do you speak first, or do you wait for someone to speak to you? If you’re having a bit of difficulty recalling the last time that you did any of the above, don’t feel badly about it; you’re in the majority.
I want to tell you a little story. This took place 39 years ago, when I was a freshman at John Carroll High School in Birmingham…..
I was a member of the Cross Country track team. I loved football, but I was much too small to play, and quite frankly, I had the coordination of a new born water buffalo! This lack of athletic skill also ruled out basketball, baseball, tennis, and any other sport that required something more than putting one foot in front of the other. I was left with running track. Sorry…..back to the story.
We were hosting a cross county meet between our school and Ramsey High School, which was located less than a mile away. We were, quite naturally, bitter rivals. If you’re not familiar with a cross country meet, well, it’s exactly that; competitors run on streets, through fields and wooded areas, and in some cases, traverse creeks and streams. Our course began and ended on our track inside the football stadium; in between were the fields, roadways, etc.
I had reentered the stadium and gotten on the track for one final lap and a race to the finish line. And I was neck and neck with a guy from the opposing school. As we rounded the final turn for the home stretch, I glanced at my opponent and saw a fierce look of determination. That’s when I realized that I was “out of gas”! As much as I wanted to beat the guy, I didn’t think that I would be able to hold him off.
I was aware of a solitary voice coming from just inside the fence that surrounded the football field, calling out my name, encouraging me, and urging me on. I looked up to put a face with the voice, and in doing so I almost stopped dead in my tracks.
That “voice” belonged to Pat Sullivan, the quarterback and captain of the football team, the school hero. He was THE man, the guy that every football fan in the state of Alabama knew. Pat Sullivan had taken the time to acknowledge my presence, to pull for me. And he knew who I was. He knew my name! The guy I was racing with didn’t have a chance; I left him in a cloud of dust.
I can imagine that some of you may be wondering why that moment was so big for me. Granted, in the grand scheme of things, in the grand scheme of life, it was no big deal. Yet here I am, recalling the events of that day some 42 years later…
The movie, or more specifically Forrest, just popped into my consciousness. I know that the movie was critically acclaimed, won several Academy Awards, and has become a Classic. “Momma always said “Life is like a box of chocolates…”” is one of our most quotable quotes. I can still see Forrest runnin’ away from those bullies with his braces disintegrating and littering that country road! Lieutenant Dan. Fried Shrimp. Alabama Football. So many memorable moments. It was a great movie and enjoyed by almost everyone. Almost.
Forrest Gump was one of the most depressing movies I had ever seen.
During the entire movie I kept thinking “There really are Forrest Gumps in the world. People with few or no friends. Lonely people. People with no hope.” I’ve never forgotten how that movie made me feel. And not once, in the Lord only knows how many times it’s been on television since, have I watched it again. But I walk with that feeling every day.
Through the years I’ve made it a point to speak to strangers. Sometimes it’s nothing more than “Morning!”, or “Hi”. Quite often what I say and how I say it depends on who (gender-wise) I’m speaking to! But I do my best to speak to, or acknowledge everyone.
It’s not that I consider myself to be special or anything like that; I’m no Pat Sullivan. If you’re a regular visitor you know that I consider myself to be a guy with a message, nothing more. It’s not about me; it’s about others.
When I see a stranger, I can’t assume that they have a friend, or for that matter have spoken to anyone that day, or that week. Some of us live in absolute solitude, and for many, it’s not a choice. I feel for those people; if something as simple as a spoken word or gesture can make a difference, how can I not acknowledge their presence?
There’s another reason for speaking to everyone, and it is perhaps the most important reason for my doing so…
Every morning I ask God to put at least five people in my path that I may talk to about Him, enlighten, inspire, and if nothing else, put a smile on their faces. Five people. Every day. Sometimes God puts them right in front of me; sometimes I have to go out and find ‘em.
If we’re at the lake, or if it’s a rainy off day, I don’t get enough opportunities to interact with the five that I’m “looking” for, simply because I don’t see enough people. The rest of the time, everyone is fair game! The end result?
I’ve had some amazing conversations with people in all walks of life, covering a variety of subjects. Of course, my favorite subject hands-down is God, and when I’m fortunate to have a conversation about God with a complete stranger, it is, as they say on the television commercial, Priceless.
Here’s the thing:
You see, much like Momma’s box of chocolates, I never know when I’m gonna encounter a Forrest Gump. Or someone with no hope. Or some kid that’s ready to give up in a race just short of the finish line. Maybe, just maybe, I can make a difference.
See you next Monday.