I’ve never received The Friendliest Human Being of The Year Award nor do I foresee it happening in this life or posthumously. I try to be friendly and warm and often it is with substantial effort. As a therapist I relate to and engage people all day and typically on an intense level. By end of day “warm and friendly” has disintegrated into “warped and fiendish.” I just want to be left alone; don’t bother me. If my cell phone rings I moan, hoping the call isn’t urgent, important, or someone needing something. If it is, this will require effort, energy, and empathy-- little of which I have after 6:00 p.m.
All of this is preface. I am involved in a local church and really enjoy these people. On a Sunday morning I make it a point to greet my friends and inquire as to how they’re doing. If I don’t know someone I may say hi and generically ask how they are doing. I’m sincere in doing so, but it’s not like I am gushing friendliness and back-slapping everyone in sight. So I was quite surprised by an email a friend at church sent me today. She said, Just wanted to say thanks for always acknowledging . It makes me feel good as her friend when others take the initiative to introduce themselves and then take the few seconds to say hi again each week! I know it means a lot to her too as the whole church thing is really new to her still and she doesn't know very many people. I just wanted you to know I noticed and I appreciate it!!
I appreciate her gesture of kindness, but am also saddened by it. She is glad that I acknowledge her friend. Are we becoming so uncivil and autonomous that mere acknowledgment of one’s existence and presence is deeply appreciated? Can it be that a mere “Hi. . . how are you?. . . It’s good to see you. . . “ may be the only warm contact a person may receive during the week?
Maybe we under-estimate the value of our words. The healing influence of an affirming acknowledgment. The significance of noticing someone. We may never know (unless someone like my friend goes out of her way to tell us) the impact of our presence. When I greet someone I usually will either shake their hand or gently and briefly place my hand on their shoulder. We all need to know we are not untouchable, for untouchable often translates into unlovable. One of the reasons I do so is because decades ago someone—without even knowing—deeply affirmed me in the most nonchalant way.
I was in my 20's and had gone through a devastating divorce that shattered my world. I felt absolutely rejected and not only unloved but unlovable. It was summertime in San Diego and I was sitting on the beach, my head down as I was buried in my sadness. Several young women were chatting as they walked by and one of them saw me. She saw into me. She paused, spoke several words of greeting and reaching down she mussed up my hair, smiled and kept on walking. I had never seen her before; never saw her again. All I know is that in that 3-5 second encounter she imparted something to me that moved my heart and soothed my soul. Her few words and her brief touch served to remind me that I still mattered--that as cast aside as I felt, I was still touchable. That memory has stuck with me all these years.
People need us to look them in the eye. People need us to acknowledge them. People need a loving touch. Those simple gestures may have a lifelong impact. You may never know.
I can tell you this; I know.