I recently did a little social experiment along my regular run-route - the Manhattan & Hermosa Beach strand - where I see familiar faces on almost every jog. Over the years, I've noticed that very few people take the time to smile and say "hello," and rather they often glance away when you get just close enough to greet them. Odd, I always think. In a strange way (and in a much larger sense) this simple little lack of connection often makes me feel like I'm not part of a "community," although I've lived here for more than 7 years now.
Well, seeing that we're not moving anywhere anytime soon, I set out to take a step toward building my personal community with the regular strand-goers that I so often see. As I went for my usual morning run, I was so pleasantly surprised at the reactions of my fellow early-risers, as I took greeted them with a smile and a "good morning!" salutation. I found myself instantly connecting with people who I had "seen" for years, and now felt like I was making myself a part of their lives...and they were becoming part of mine. Community. I could tell that many of them were also pleasantly surprised that a stranger was taking a moment to wish them well for the day. It felt so good and filled every step of my run with more energy and more ease.
And so I continued this experiment into my 4th of July weekend, where we spent much of the day at our friend's home on a walk-street just up from the strand. As an older woman and her husband strolled their bikes down the street past us, I glanced up and words flew from my mouth, "Happy 4th of July! Have a great day!" and they smiled back and wished me the same. Shortly after, my friend and I walked down to the strand, and found ourselves next to the couple who I had just greeted.
The woman paused with her bike and in a low and sweet voice, she peered from under her sun-hat and said, "excuse me." She continued, "I have to tell you...I have to tell you that it was so kind what you just did, saying Happy 4th of July to us." She was somewhat breathless, and there was a sadness that carried in her tone. "You see, my mother passed away about an hour ago, and my husband has been trying to get me to go for a bike ride to get out of the house. I feel so strange right now. But when you said hello to me, it was so kind, and it made my day. It made me ok."
I was speechless. I looked at her with a furrowed brow and lightly touched her arm. I apologized for her loss and wished her well, as the sun wrapped its warmth around us and the ocean sparkled cheerfully back. It was the most beautiful day, and I found it incredible that the connection that was created just from a simple "hello" was enough to lift a saddened spirit and make things "ok" for just that moment.
Perhaps I simply wasn't allowing myself to live each moment with an open heart, as I've run back and forth, year after year, on the concrete along the ocean. Perhaps all it takes is a simple "hello" to completely change our sense of community. Perhaps all it takes is a smile to make everything ok. Whatever it is, I'm going to keep doing it because it's working out quite well. And I hope you will pay it forward, as well...
Have a beautiful weekend!