I spend a lot of time on the streets in my direct neighborhood. If you look at my running routes, they’re usually pretty similar because I have a tendency to run the same exact routes quite often. I live in a neighborhood with a lot of people like me, too. We live on a street with a walkway that is well-used by walkers, runners and everyone in between. In fact, when I first started hitting our streets, I’d pass people and we’d smile bashfully and remark that here we are on the reliable loop, again! And again! And again!
But as with any neighborhood there are those people. You know the ones: you see them coming toward you and as you gear up to smile, wave and give a friendly hello, you notice they are looking everywhere around but at you. Then when you pass one another they don’t even look at you. Even thought you’re smiling, waving and saying hello! And it’s weird. Weird enough that Bradley and I have gotten a little bit up in people’s grills about it. We will say hello, then hi, then follow it up with a wave and usually people will step outside of themselves to respond like a fellow human who is interested in having friendly, neighborly relations, but it’s shocking, to me, how many people refuse to acknowledge my humanity by returning a smile or friendly greeting. I know it sounds silly, but these are my neighbors. These are the people who I am supposed to be able to turn to if I have an emergency, and they won’t say hello. I think that’s weird and that’s why we are relentless. I want to feel like I know and kind of trust (a little) the people I run the streets with and see almost daily.
Today, however, I learned a bit of a karmic lesson. There’s this one dude- tall and skinny, just like I like – I like ’em tall-n-skinny like a beanpole, in case you were wondering. Anyhow, this guy has been walking his dog on our reliable loop for years, at least as long as I have been running, and never once has he returned my greeting. Not one smile, not one glance, he crosses the street when I see him coming, his dog has behaved aggressively… You get the idea. His dog is a little cute, but wild, thing and he has a nice look about him, so every time we pass him we say hello. We wave. We smile. We put it all out there in hopes that one day he’ll break and return the smile. But today I was a bit grumpy when I went out for a run and today I didn’t feel like bending to his rules. Today when I saw that dude I was all like, “I’m not moving out of his way and I’m not saying hello to him today. He can just be his jerky self without my barometer to measure it with, SO THERE!” So I approached and stared straight ahead. I didn’t smile, I didn’t wave and I didn’t even look at him. And this time? That guy smiled and said hello to me. He didn’t cross the street. He didn’t ignore me. I didn’t initiate- it just came out of him. I ran past him in shock, passed him too late to even return the smile. I was so shocked that I wanted to turn around and tell him thank you for that gesture of neighborliness. Thank you for massaging my ego by seeing me. But I didn’t.
I was ashamed in that moment. I was reminded of this Mister Rogers quote:
In that moment I didn’t choose kindness and I undid all the years of effort we have put in with that man. In that moment I chose to give him a dose of his karma, but he chose to give me a dose of mine in return. More than anything, really I wish that, instead, I had bypassed that yucky yin and yang cycle and put nothing but positivity into the world. That we had both passed, smiled and individually celebrated what just happened between two neighbors. He put himself out there and I ran right over him. I ran over myself, too. Usually when I cross paths with that guy I see him around the bend later, so I hoped that would be the case today. I ran a bit faster in hopes of catching him and saying hello, but it didn’t happen. You can bet, though, that next time I see him I’m going to start the whole process anew, and I’ll definitely remember the lesson: choose kindness, choose kindness and choose kindness. Always.