Thursday, February 21, 2013
A HELLO THAT MAKES A DIFFERENCE
It's 8:00 AM. I take the same route to work each day, seeing the same places and familiar faces. I walk by the bus terminal and see the busload of business people coming from the northern suburbs, hustling onto the escalators and dispersing throughout downtown to the many buildings and offices.
I walk by the muffin shop, where there's always a line for muffins and coffee. I see people dropping-off their laundry at the dry cleaners, and the line at the Starbucks for a morning boost.
I walk through Marshal Field's, and pass by the security guard stationed in front of the men's shirts, dressed in the standard uniform, black pants, black shoes, and white shirt. He's a tall, slender attractive African American with a mustache and dimples. The security guard greets everyone that walks by. No one is left-out. "Hello", "Good morning", "How are you". He makes small talk with many of the passer-byers, complimenting their outfits, and wishing them well.
I admire how he knows so many people by their first name. His simple hello makes people feel special. He's more than a security guard; he's a staple of the morning rush. His presence and cheerful smile becomes a part of my day. When he's absent, it's noticed. I feel an emptiness.
The first few times I see the security guard, I don't say hello back to him when he says hello to me. I'm in my own world, contemplating the day's activities. One day I say hello back. This continues for a couple weeks. "Hello" "Good morning". We continue to greet each other day after day. Then one Friday morning he wishes me a good weekend. Then on the following Friday he wishes me a good weekend again.
On Monday the security guard asks me "How was your weekend". I tell him about my visit to California, to see my mother, who has colon cancer. I share how I visit her each month. And this last weekend Mom and I went to the family cabin near Lake Tahoe to say good-bye to the cabin before it sold. "My time with Mother is so precious, because I know that each time may be the last. I feel sadness. I feel love. I feel fortunate to have the gift of time."
He listens like a concerned friend I've known for years. He feels my sadness and my love. He tells me how sorry he is to hear about my mother. And what a gift it is to have the time with her that I have.
He shares how he lost his father to cancer two years ago. "I understand what you are going through, I think about my father every day. He passed away while I was serving in Germany. I was three months from retiring from being in the service for over 22 years. Do to circumstances I was unable to fly back in time. I was unable to say good-bye or be at the funeral. I wish I could have been with him. Given him a hug. Told him I loved him. Said good. You are lucky to have the gift of time."
As I walk away, I realize I do not even know his name. I'm touched by the exchange and how compassionate and understanding the security guard is. He's more than a security guard or a stranger, he's a person that has touched me and who understands what I'm going through. He's a friend.
The following day, on my way to work, I stop by the men's department in Marshall Fields. There's the security guard again, in front of the dress shirts, with his delightful smile, looking at passerby's with a gleam in his eye, and wishing each a good morning.
As he says hello to me, I wish him a good morning back. Not a second after, I say "After we spent all that time talking yesterday, I don't know your name." The security guard answers "Gary". I respond back, "My name is Deborah". Gary says, "Have a good day." I say, "Thank you, have a good day too."
Each morning we greet each other by name, "Hello Deborah," "Good morning Gary". Every Friday, "Deborah, have a good weekend". "Have a good weekend too, Gary. See you Monday."
One Monday morning, I stop to talk to Gary. Gary pulls a picture of his 7-year old daughter out of his wallet. The two spent the weekend together going to church and to the movies. Gary transgresses into his 20-year experience in the service, traveling all over the world. He shares the importance of teamwork in the military and talks about the friends he lost, fighting in Kosovo. He shares his vision of going back to school to become an airline pilot. I share my dreams of wanting to work for myself.
Week after week, we continue to talk a couple times a week. We share stories about our weekend, our dreams, and our families.
At 42 -years old, Gary follows his heart, and enters into pilot training, and goes back to school to earn a degree in business. Then after a couple months pass, he receives a call from the ROTC offering him a job at the University of New Mexico. Gary takes the job, and moves away. It's been several years since I last spoke to Gary in front of the men's department, yet the memory feels like yesterday.
I look back at what started-out as a hello from a stranger and became a friendship of sharing past stories from the heart and dreams for the future. Gary touched me and reached-out to me and made my morning the best part of the day. I experienced beauty of friendship and love.
In the busyness of life, we often forget how easy it is to wish a stranger hello, and how great and lasting a difference it can make. When you say hello to a stranger and share from the heart, you become a pebble in the pond. With each ripple you create, you spread love that continues to give, long after it feels like it has disappeared. Make a point to say hello to a stranger today. You will give the gift that will keep on giving.