The Power of Hello and a Smile

Walking around Quarry Park, I did my usual; I headed off for the furthest possible part of the park to be quiet and peaceful and all alone in the woods. When I arrived the parking lot was packed as it was the first really beautiful 50° and sunny day we’ve had this spring, so the place was absolutely buzzing with people; voices, laughter, kids, dogs you name it.

At one point as I was on my way back to the parking lot, I had no choice but to take one of the main trails and found myself, yes, surrounded by people. Not a gobstopper of a crowd, but regular exchanges with humans which when I am in the woods, I don’t necessarily love. The painful introvert in me needs my time alone in order to truly return to myself. What I noticed in a very short time though, was something that has occurred to me before as I have traveled to other places; a smile and a hello do wonders to create connection.

As a child, I remember walking down the main street of my small hometown holding my mother’s hand, I was probably four or five years old. As we passed people on the street my mother stopped and chatted.  At one point as we walked, we passed the rarity of someone she didn’t know. She of course smiled and said hello. I, on the other hand, a small child and very shy at that age, said nothing. My mother, after passing this woman on the street, squeezed my hand, looked at me, and said, “you always smile and say hello when you pass someone”.

I remember being at a high school wrestling tournament walking down a street in Minneapolis with a friend of mine smiling at everybody and saying hello to everyone we passed. My friend looked at me like it was an absolute alien and told me “you need to stop doing that, you’re going to get yourself in trouble“. So at various points in my life, I have given and taken back this simple greeting and exchange with people.

At this point in life, what I have noticed is simply this – as I passed two young boys on their BMX bikes cruising the trails and smiled and said hello, they smiled and said hi back. As I passed the young 20-something years old girls giggling their way down the trail with their cute little outfits and sneakers, I smiled and said hello and in the midst of their laughing and giggling, said hello back.  As I passed the Hispanic family who clearly spoke no English, and I do not speak Spanish, I simply smiled and said hello, and they smiled openly and said hello.  The little girl with dark skin and ponytails ran towards me saying “hello, hello, hello” like it was the one English word she knew, with her parents running to keep up with her, I smiled and said hello back. To the dark skin people strolling down the trail hand-in-hand, I simply smiled and said hello and they smiled and said hello back.

I have found this in markets in Belize, and in clock towers in Switzerland, and the result is always the same. We as humans truly do desire a sense of connection, of belonging, and the sense of wanting to feel accepted wherever we are. It will never cease to amaze me the simplicity of a smile and a hello and the instantaneous connection and feeling of oneness that we create together at that moment. The simple magic of this is not lost on me.

Going forward, I will keep my mother‘s advice: always smile and say hello.

Forever the journey, Anne

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