A few years ago, I was walking down a mostly-empty street in my neighborhood, and I saw someone walking in my direction. He was an older man, looking down, walking rather quickly. I waited for him to look up so that I could smile at him or acknowledge him in some way. He didn’t look up, and we both kept walking in our separate directions.
This went on for about four months or so. Different times of day, we passed one another, neither of us greeting one another. For years I had been completely comfortable with this kind of coexistence. I was fine to walk past people without looking at or speaking to them, without making any attempt to connect with them.
Eventually, I noticed a shift. I wanted to reach out to people. I wanted to be a safe, friendly, loving face. My first efforts at this were with this man.
Day after day this man and I walked past one another without much (if any) interaction. After a few months, I said my first “good morning” to him. He briefly looked up, glanced in my direction, looked back down, and continued his quick pace. I decided to stick with my new addition to our routine passing and continued to greet him each time we saw one another.
We pressed through this new phase of our interaction for a few months. We would approach one another; I greeted him; he would quickly glance at me and keep walking. I grew accustomed to this and began to expect it.
One day, as I was gearing up for our usual interface, something changed. I smiled, said hello… and he smiled back. He slowed down, smiled at me, and said, “It’s a beautiful morning, isn’t it?” We chatted for about a minute or so and then continued on our way.
I was elated. After almost a year of consistent behavior and subtle shifts, we were strengthening our gentle little connection. Every day after that, we shared bits of our lives with one another, our weekend plans, which books we were rereading for the hundredth time and why. I still enjoy our connection. We now look for one another and begin our conversation long before we’re side by side.
This process has taught me significant lessons.
If I had never reached out at all or given up early on when it seemed like my neighborhood friend preferred that we keep our narratives to ourselves, I wouldn’t get to enjoy the connection that we have today. If I had stopped reaching out to him any time I felt rejected or embarrassed because he didn’t meet my reach, it would have been a loss- the loss of a warm connection and the loss of my authenticity.
Just because someone might not respond the way you hope doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do or say what’s in your heart.
As I thought about what I learned from the interactions with my neighborhood friend, I started to think about how it could inform my more intimate relationships. What could I give to and gain from relationships in which I reach out empathically, patiently, selflessly? If I can reach out to a stranger for almost a year and expect nothing in return, how am I capable of being in long-term relationships? I began to wonder what my life could be like if I didn’t need anything or anyone to be different from how they are at any given moment.
What seemed like a mundane part of my day turned into an invaluable gift. I started keeping my eyes open to other lessons that might be right in front of me, lessons that I had previously ignored. I like what I am finding.
I’d love for you to tell me about your lessons. What have you found?
Love and Be Loved,