He was 30, maybe – a young man but not that young, with clipped brown hair and neat khaki shorts and an air of stony purpose about him. He was walking east on New Scotland Avenue. I was hoofing west, happy to run a few errands on foot despite the spit of rain on a gray Saturday morning.
As we passed, I eyeballed him just as I eyeball every stranger when I’m walking around the neighborhood: with curiosity. Was he a law student? A young professional freshly arrived? A neighbor who’s lived here forever but keeps to himself?
Hello!, I said, locking eyes with him briefly before he glanced away.
He said nothing.
I studied his blank, cleanly shaven mug, wondering if he’d even heard me. I think he did; I was plenty loud. It’s possible he was preoccupied. It’s possible he’s as prone to spacing out as I am. It’s also possible he’s stone deaf. Or –- I hate to say it, but this has the highest probability — he simply chose to ignore me. Maybe he’s shy. Maybe he’s distraught over something. Maybe his turtle just died. Or his hastas. Or maybe, and again I hate to say it, he’s just not one for friendly bits of badinage with random unknown sidewalk denizens out running errands.
I shrugged it off, because who cares, right? His problem. Plenty of other folks to greet on a stroll down New Scotland. With some I swapped Hellos, with some Good mornings, with others How are you?’s –though I still have my cranky little issues with that last one. (WHY do we ask that question IF WE DON’T EXPECT AN ANSWER?). Most of us, I think, enjoy swapping pleasantries with folks we’ve never seen before and might never ever ever see again, because even these tiniest, most inconsequential and superficial-slash-insincere of social interactions bind us to one another and help us feel connected.
Opposite St. Peter’s Hospital, I passed an older woman at a bus stop in a long black dress. She gave the warmest smile I’d seen all day, her lovely face radiant and caring. I said hello. She said hello back. And for that mighty micro-moment of miraculous human synergy, we mattered to each other, related to each other, made the world a warmer place.
About 10 minutes later, with most of my errands finished, I started hoofing back east along New Scotland. I passed that same woman at the same bus stop. She gave me the same warm smile. We felt the same fleeting jazz of connectedness. And on my right, I saw him: a big guy standing on the curb, his stance wide, his round face fleshy and welcoming.
He grinned at me.
“PLEASE have a good day,” he implored, flinging out his big arms to embrace the drizzle or the moment or (if I’d been any closer) me.
And you too, I said.
“Thank you!” he replied. And I knew he meant it, just as I knew he meant the please -– beseeching me politely to have a good day as though it mattered to him. As though, if I didn’t have a good day, it might somehow ruin his.
I had one. I hope he did to, too. And the woman who smiled. And the man who didn’t? Maybe, if I see him tomorrow, he’ll say hi back.