Yesterday a stranger made my whole day, by giving me about five seconds of his. He was standing outside of an office building on First Avenue, engrossed in a phone call when I passed by on my morning run. When I got close enough to make eye contact, he moved his phone away from his face, pausing the conversation briefly to look at me and say “Hey, Happy Thanksgiving” as I went by. I waved and returned his greeting, and kept running into downtown, lifted up by this momentary but impactful interaction.
I usually encounter a lot of people while I run. I live in a dense neighborhood in a city of 1.4 million. No matter how early I go, I have plenty of company. I’m a big believer in the runner’s wave, and will say “good morning” or wave a little hello to any other runner out there who makes eye contact. On the whole, we’re a pretty friendly bunch (pumped full of all of those feel-good endorphins, I guess), and I’ve got about a 50% success rate in getting other runners to say hello or wave back. But when it comes to everyone else out there, it’s a much bleaker picture. Someone who is walking alone will sometimes smile or say hello. People who are walking in pairs or groups rarely do. And anyone who’s holding a phone … forget it. I stopped trying with them years ago. The best I can can hope for is that they’ll glance up to check my position and avoid a collision. I’m not looking to strike up a conversation with any of these folks. I’ve never really loved chatting with strangers. But I do think it’s important that we see each other.
I use a smartphone as much as – or maybe more than – the average person. I get it. I spent about 15 years of my life on call in various jobs. I’m frequently getting some work done or catching up with friends while I walk my dog. And I know well the compulsion to scroll through news or social media feeds when I’m bored or need a distraction. But as the manager of my first retail job taught me: when triaging communications, the person standing in front of you should always come first. I’ll stop mid-text and put my phone down when I’m crossing paths with someone. If I’m in the middle of a conversation, I make eye contact and mouth a silent “hi” or wave. And yes, I’m sitting in my living room ignoring my live-and-in-person human husband while I write this on a laptop. I’m not perfect at all of this, but I do try.
I get responses less and less often these days, and often return home feeling sad and disconnected. So many humans out there, so little humanity. So as I engage this morning in the ritual of Thanksgiving Day gratitude, I’m thinking fondly of that stranger on the street who I may never see again, but who took the time to see me.
And whoever you are, if you took the time to read this post, then I thank you for seeing me too. And hey, Happy Thanksgiving.