I crossed the street yesterday and saw my favorite crossing guard and smiled and said, "You are the only person that ever says hello to me and smiles at me!", I was so flattered!! It made my whole week to hear him say that. All along I had thought it was me benefiting from his warm greeting every morning. Acknowledging others is truly a healing experience for all involved.
Living in the city and right across that same street from where this crossing guard works, I get the privilege of hearing this guy whistling that whistle all morning long as I get ready for work. I'm scrambling eggs for Nora's French toast and I hear him whistling, I juice my veggies for the day, I hear him whistling, I get out of the shower, whistling, whistling, whistling. When I pass him on the way to work I always make sure to smile at him and say good morning just to see his bright smile.
Smiling and saying good morning is not just polite, but it's a way of coming back to this moment, right now, to the person standing right before me. We must not take things for granted, for that is what often happens when all is right in our own worlds and we go about our day only addressing the people closest to us. Yet, there are plenty of people who exist amongst us who may be dealing with some very real and serious issues at that moment and it's important to be present and aware when around people. Too often, we walk right past people we may not have direct connection with and never think to engage them.
When I was younger and without children I remember living in a very closed world. Although I was a Kindergarten teacher, I could not relate to any parents at all. I could not figure out why the parents I was working with were always late to events, why they came across so irresponsible, they always had all kinds of excuses, they were always talking about their kids nonstop. Oh, I knew parents. I had my idea of 'parents' in my head and any and all my interactions with them were filtered though these preconceived and very ill conceived notions of what a parent was all about. When we first became pregnant 7 years ago, my husband realized HE had been ignoring a whole segment of the population too. I remember him admitting to me in a surprised tone that he never noticed pregnant women until WE ourselves got pregnant. Imagine that!
I have found that, by default, I often ignore whole population of people whom I THINK I don't have anything in common with. Unfortunately, this behavior is not uncommon. For example, I grew up around a mom with a very heavy accent. Although she speaks and understands English beautifully, I noticed how, all through my life, the minute strangers heard her broken Spanish accent, some people tended to be immediately rude or disrespectful to her. It was appalling to see people treat my mom as if she were stupid just because she had a thick Spanish accent.
Part of my daily Buddhist practice is to work at being in the moment with people and working to see people as they present themselves to me at the time. I consciously work to avoid judging people and situations based on external or disconnected factors such as gossip or other's experiences of them. The larger aim of this daily practice is to genuinely experience life and not react to merely our disconnected thoughts about life, people and situations. It sounds awfully simple and elementary, but I've been working on it for a while and it's a daily practice.
It has always been my lifelong belief that if we all knew what each other has been through in our lives, what each has experienced and lived, we would have deeper understanding in all our relationships. Seeking true understanding of people and their intentions has been a very healing path for me. Even in dealing with negative people, I find the practice of understanding helps me grow beyond this need to change the external. The way I have figured is that people are perfectly allowed to have their own misunderstandings of me; life goes on. To not have to ponder, worry and try to change other's understandings and to only worry about my own understanding has been quite liberating.
What whole segments of people do we walk by each day and not see, not notice, not acknowledge? What whole sections of the population do we think we already know all about, yet have not spoken to?