Ever since I can remember, it’s been a fact of life that my mother’s father, or Papou as we call him, likes to talk to strangers. And not just a quick “How you doing” to someone he passes in the street. I’m talking the full-on “you don’t know me but I’m about to talk to you like we’re friends” kind of thing. He’ll pause in the middle of a restaurant, walk up to a table where a parent is sitting with two smiling children, and remark how blessed the parent is: “you are a lucky man.”
One time we were at the stop sign at the end of my cul-de-sac, waiting to make a left turn. Suddenly, this teenager in a massive truck made a U-turn right in front of us and parked his car on the street perpendicular to mine. My Papou pulled up right next to him, rolled down my window and said, “That was a very impressive U-turn! I didn’t think you could do it, but that was well done.” Most other people would have yelled, flipped the bird, or simply made the left turn and sped away, but not my Papou.
Some may say that makes him eccentric, some might say he’s a deck of cards with an extra joker, but most would agree his behavior is out of the ordinary.
Earlier this week, I accidentally waved to a complete stranger who simply looked like someone I knew, the confusion on that person’s face, left me feeling a little sad that we are so intent on maintaining our personal comfort zones, that being kind, or even (gasp) jolly to strangers is so outside the norm.
So I decided to go for it. I began to wave, or smile at random people walking by. I complimented strangers on outfits or other things, and then made mental notes of the responses. There were looks of confusion, a few looked backward to see if maybe I was waving, or talking to someone behind them, and of course some people ignored me completely. But I came to realize that their response wasn’t what was important. I had gone out of my comfort zone, risked embarrassment, and I felt pretty good about it.
We live in an uncertain time. We are bombarded with news broadcast that tell us the economy is collapsing, and none of us will ever find jobs, we are told to be afraid of climate change, terrorism, even peanut butter can kill you these days. Maybe we could all do with a little kindness from strangers. Sometimes I think we’re all so afraid of the unknown, the unfamiliar, or simply so focused on our own realities we barely notice what is happening all around us.
Think about it: we Aggies get into bike accidents all the time. Sure, sometimes they’re the result of trying to ride with coffee in one hand and a cell phone in the other, and sometimes accidents just happen. But other times they’re because we aren’t paying attention to the world around us. Maybe if we all lifted our heads, we might see that person about to run into us.
Perhaps the same is true of kindness to, and interaction, with strangers. If we take the time to notice them, who knows what we might find. When people sign yearbooks, they often write “don’t be a stranger.” Why? Because being a stranger just isn’t as fun to have in one’s life. Maybe that can change.
When I have a bad day, all it takes is a text from a friend to make me look up, smile and keep putting one foot in front of the other. After all the waving to strangers, I wonder if the post-text smiles are just because someone took the time to send them and say hello. Everyone has bad days, and good days, and it is hard to know just by walking by someone which kind of day it has been. Either way, a smile can go a long way and I intend to try and make sure that I spread as many smiles and nods as possible. I’ll never know if they were warmly welcomed or simply ignored, but if I smile then maybe that person will smile too and their world might get just a little bit brighter.
EMILY KAPLAN thinks graduation registration has begun and a John Mayer style “quarter life crisis” isn’t out of the question. Any seniors wishing to commiserate and pretend the calendar doesn’t exist should e-mail her at email@example.com.