Sometimes paths cross in the oddest moments, for the briefest time—and yet…
I pass people on my morning walks, all kinds of people: old, young, women, men, every shade; on bikes, skateboards, ear-buds; walking, running, shambling; purposeful, aimless; alone, coupled, in packs. And, because I walk a few routes at somewhat regular times, I meet some of the same people regularly. I talk with a few—the friendly family up the street at whose brother’s wedding I officiated; the fellow who wears sports caps (USC, Raiders, Cal State Long Beach) chats a bit about Pac 12 football; the couple I occasionally see near Crenshaw, who have on Oregon connection and spotted one of my shirts, reminisce about God’s Country. And of course, with so many in the neighborhood, I see church folk fairly often (though while on sabbatical, I’ve seen only Lisa Uys, twice, biking to school) and when I do, we’ll talk at greater length.
But mostly, I just say “Good morning” and little more—to some on a regular basis, and to whomever else looks ready for a greeting. I’ll admit—I’m careful with my hellos: I do darting eye contact attempts until I catch receptive look, and then we’ll both greet. For the record, I’m like this with hugs, too—always ready to participate, but tending not to initiate. Some folks don’t want a hug; I respect that.
And some people don’t want to say “Hello” either. I do my glance…glance…glance thing, and they pass on by, eyes lowered, or staring straight ahead. Some women look off to the right to avoid eye contact—an understandable thing in our culture, where (wisely, sadly) it is often better not to interact with men you don’t know. It reminds me not to take it personally.
Though not taking it personally is harder with people who ignore me on a routine basis—people I see several times a week, who ignore me every time. Hmmm. I have experimented with “Good Morning!” even without eye contact. With most, it’s to no avail. I was in Salem on our recent trip, where I took in a portion of my old neighborhood. To my surprise, I crossed paths with another regular from my days back there: the guy in the red jacket with Einstein hair and a scrooged-up face. For seven years we had passed, occasionally with eye contact, and some attempted greeting from me, but nary a word from him. Now, after another six years without seeing one another…he ignored me still.
And I reminded myself, again, that it’s not personal. Who knows what’s going on someone’s mind, in their life? Walking can be a trance-inducing experience, or an exercise in introversion, where greetings distract. It can be a hurried discipline, where strangers delay. Perhaps these people are deep in thought, whether painful or prayerful or both, I cannot say. Perhaps life has been hard, unfair—maybe the kind of experience that makes civility to strangers hard. It is an opportunity for grace, I suppose. So I try to be gracious, whether we speak or not.
And for each of these odd little relationships, I send up an odd little prayer. Whether I know their names, or their stories, or ever even hear their voices. Because a greeting from even a semi-stranger is never a bad thing. Because even one smile can change someone’s day. Because, even if we don’t think we’re on the same team, we are most surely in the same boat. Because I believe that wherever there is a cross—whether paths or prayers or borne pain—there Christ is also.