Monday, February 9, 2009

Just Say It

Last Monday I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. I was feeling impatient about things in my life over which I have no control. It would be my day off, as I planned to work the following weekend. Usually that's my day to restock the shelves at home, run other errands, and get in a long work-out of some sort. After sending the girls off to school, I decided to do the shopping quickly in my sweats before the stores got busy, then I would work out mid-day. I think it was Zsa-Zsa Gabor who said she never goes out of the house without her make-up on, and I should take her advice. I ran into several nearby stores looking pretty tattered, but all I cared about was finishing the "to-do" list and heading outside for a run or a ride to free my mind.

As I walked the aisles of my favorite big-box store, I kept thinking too much about life's complications and started to become even grumpier than I was when I woke up. I dragged myself past the meat counter, and suddenly a friend called out my name and snapped me out of my funk. She gave me a big smile and asked me how I was. I'm surprised she even bothered to say hello, judging from the expression that was probably on my face. But her two little girls were adorable and I couldn't consider my own issues when I saw them. I remembered how I had failed to pull myself together for the day and began apologizing, but Jennilyn didn't seem to notice or care. She just wanted to say "hello."

This greeting, as simple as it was, struck me and convinced me to never avoid someone I know and always take advantage of that chance to greet them. As reported in a recent edition of Reader's Digest, Joe Kita did an informal study on the effect of this greeting. He reflects, "
It is an acknowledgment of existence. It is a pause, however brief, to affirm another's worth (and have yours affirmed in return)." After one month of greeting everyone in his path, he noted that his marriage was healthier and his overall sense of well-being had improved. By examining 11 common benefits, he concludes, "So maybe we can make the world a better place by just saying hello."

I know my day was made better by someone greeting me. And the story grew. After finally finishing the to-do list, I set out on my bike toward the bay and into the foothills. There I was, lucky enough and healthy enough to be riding on a perfect, crisp afternoon. First it was the the grandmother on her cruiser bike with her husband close behind. She said it: "hello!" Then, half a mile or so later, going across the bridge a bearded man in his 50's said it: "hi." Around the other side of the trail as I traveled west, the park ranger gave a very emphatic wave, "hello." This was my message, all of these people today acknowledging my existence with a greeting or a wave.

Sometimes all it takes is that one "hello," "hi," "how are you," to completely turn another person's day around. We have no idea what is going on inside their head. One of my daughter's friends complained that I looked right past him without saying anything. I told her I was so busy thinking about something else that I didn't even notice he was there. A group of kids at the local In n' Out hamburger shop called out my name last week as I walked in with my other daughter. Thank goodness, or I might not have noticed them, either. Now that I realize the impact of hello, I'll try harder to get outside of my own thoughts and be more generous with a simple greeting. It made my world such a happy place last week!

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