A Smile and A Wave

{Re-post from April 8, 2010}

I live in a neighborhood where unfortunately, most people keep to themselves.  Although I am in Florida where the climate is conducive to people staying outdoors, it seems that most people live in the back of their houses and never really mingle out front.  It has been challenging meeting our neighbors and I never see a couple of men talking over the hedge or a group of women standing out front chatting while their children play.  It's sad, really.  When I grew up, we were always involved with the people in our neighborhood.  We were in the yard or streets playing kick ball and our parents were constantly outside socializing.  It was community.  It was family.

Sadly, we live in a time where we have to relentlessly watch our children and the adults are so busy or self-involved that they never have time to take a few minutes to go visit a neighbor.  When we moved in two years ago, I wondered where the "welcome wagon" was or why no one stopped in to introduce themselves.  In fact, the first Halloween we were here, we threw a giant party and sent an invitation to everyone on our street and opened our doors wide to whoever wanted to come in.  It was a lot of fun and we met so many people.  That was a year and a half ago, and yet we still don't see any of them socially!  I spend a lot of time in my garden and whenever I am out in front, I always throw my hand out to wave at a neighbor walking or driving by.  Sometimes I get nothing in return or stranger still, the neighbors will do a double-take to make sure they actually saw someone!  Occasionally, they throw an awkward and meaningless wave back.

This became a challenge to me.  Why are so many people closed-off?  Where is the sense of friendliness?

About 9 months ago, I started to notice a tiny elderly woman slowly walking every afternoon down the street and pass by my house. She was hunched over and pushing a walker with wheels to aid her as she walked.  Her steps were labored and she seemed to be in a lot of pain.  I surmised that she probably had broken a hip and was trying to exercise her injuries.  Day after day, she tediously walked by--sometimes several times a day.  I admired her determination and remembered years ago when my grandmother broke her hip and how the doctors told her if she didn't force herself to walk on it, she may never recover.  I know it was extremely painful for her and I imagined my little neighbor felt much the same way.  I always raised my hand to wave or shout out a hello, but she always looked away and didn't respond.  Odd, I know, but the more she didn't respond, the more I tried to make contact.  For months and months I watched her.  I actually found myself looking for her every day.  As time went on, she was standing straighter and walking faster and eventually she was flying by on the walker! I always attempted my wave to her, but still nothing.

One day, she came down the street without her walker!  It made me so happy to see that she was healing and although she was still bent over a little to the side, I admired her strength and perseverence.  I continued to wave, whether I was driving by or just standing out front as she went by, but still no response.  I was frustrated, but I persisted.  Eventually she started to acknowledge me with a little nod of the head and I knew I was making progress!

Today, my determination paid off!  I was pulling out of my driveway as she was approaching and I stopped to let her cross in front of me. Lo and behold, she looked me right in the eye and gave me the biggest grin and an exuberant wave.  I was elated!  She finally returned my gestures of friendship (either that, or she was too tired to fight it anymore)!  Either way, it didn't matter! She acknowledged me!  Now the question is, did I perform an act of random kindness, or did she?

A smile is the light in the window of your face that tells people you’re at home.
— Unknown

     "A smile is the light in the window of your face that tells people you're at home."  ~Author Unknown