Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Three Hellos

Say hi to three people you don’t know before you leave today, the pastor said.  The words were familiar.  So was my reaction. 

No.  I won’t do it – I feel so fake.  It’s not my style to talk up strangers, even after church when everyone is in a good mood, when people have had their spirits and souls filled and are uplifted and ready to take on their week no matter how hard it might be. 

I smile vaguely at a few people as my husband disappears, off to mingle and to put the pastor’s words in action.  I am grateful for my son, who shares my unease in a crowd; he stays at my elbow.  He’s in that middle stage of growing up where he can almost look me in the eye, yet he feels no need to break off from me.  We held our hands palm to palm during the service to compare their sizes.  His hands, while still round and soft like a child’s, are almost as big as mine.  He is 28 years younger than me.

A young father walks by, balancing a baby on his shoulder.  She is dressed all in pink: pink dress, pink socks, pink headband with a large pink flower off to one side.  The shock of dark long hair on the top of her head belies her age.  Dad is holding her upright with his hand; she is not old enough to support herself.  Her tiny face swivels around at the throng.  Mom trails behind, infant seat slung over the crook of her elbow, bulging diaper bag over her other shoulder.  She looks tired.  I am familiar with the feeling that she wears on her face.    

She’s got a pretty good seat up there, I say to the mother as she passes us.  I nod in the direction of her daughter, leading the little parade that is her family.

I’ve taken this mom by surprise.  She was not going to be stopping three strangers to say hello today.  There was a feeding, a diaper change, and a nap for the baby (and maybe even her) in her near future.  Her day, like all before it and all after it for a time, is going to look just like this one.

She smiles and agrees.  Yeah, she says generously.  She sure does.   Have a good day, I said.  I watch them escape.

One down, two to go, says my son.  He enjoyed watching this interchange between this mother and me.  He interrupts my internal assessment of my own awkward attempt at normal interaction.  If there’s one thing that my children are good at, it is to untangle me from my thoughts.

Two more.  I’m going to look for the family that was sitting behind us during service, I said.  They always do; I don’t even know them.  I listened to their baby gurgle and babble directly behind me throughout the quiet parts of the service.  I wanted to tell them that I enjoyed her contented song, even when she squealed out once or twice.  My babies don’t make those noises anymore.  I miss those noises more and more as they grow older.

There they are, I said.  My son followed my eyes in the direction of the family I was talking about, engaged in a conversation with some others.  Feeling conspicuous, I agreed to go outside with my son and wait for my husband there.  On our way out, I said hello and smiled at an elderly woman standing alone, probably waiting for her own social butterfly to wrap things up.  She smiled and greeted me back.  Two down.  One to go.

As we went outside, we picked our way through the mulch in the front of our church, where there is a small goldfish pond hiding just behind the landscaping.  It’s a magnet for kids, who flock to this little pool to see the dozen or so goldfish swim around and around.  My kids have been watching these fish swim here every Sunday morning of their lives. 

A young family I knew was there, the boy and girl stooping down to point at the fish, the mom and dad trying to stay close enough so they could grab an arm if one of the kids got too close to the water.  Do you see any frogs?  I said.  There used to be a frog that lived here.

I remember, said my son.  The pastor reached in to touch it and it jumped.  We all jumped!  We laughed at this story.

As we parted ways, we saw the family who sat behind us during service walking our way.  There they are, mom, said my son.  Are you going to say hi?

Yeah, I replied.  As they passed, we smiled and greeted each other.  We introduced ourselves and I said to them, Your baby is adorable.  I love listening to her during church.  My babies don’t make those noises anymore, and I miss them.  As I said this, the baby smiled at me, just like mine used to.  

Not my baby.  But I can almost hear her giggle.


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24 comments:

  1. Andrea, you are so gosh darn adorable. It's hard to picture you shy since I know you online. (I know you better than most). ;-) Ironic, isn't it? But I love that your husband gives you challenges to follow. He's right, you know. We're not supposed to stay in our corner and people are truly missing out by not knowing you. I mean that.

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    1. Thank you, Jennie. You do know me pretty well! :) And your words are so sweet. I work very hard at not appearing to be shy, even though the feeling is there. My husband challenges me in the sink-or-swim way - when in a crowd he always leaves me to talk to other people. It is hard but good for me.

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  2. I am not a shy person, per se, but it's hard for me to just go up and say hi to people at church too. I love that you picked two people with babies. I think that is who I would have been drawn to also :)

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    1. I gravitate towards moms, I think They're my people.

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  3. I used to just keep to myself, head down in a crowd. Moving to Canada has actually changed that for me (and living in a small town and walking everywhere) - I walk by so many people every day now that I haven't met, but there has been more than one conversation that has left me smiling.
    Good for you!

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    1. I usually don't have trouble saying hi to total strangers, but at church, where there is the possibility of small talk, I panic. I'm no good at small talk.

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  4. I am shy in crowds. But when I do take a deep breath and speak with someone, I am always happy that I did.

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    1. I do, too. It's just taking that first step.

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  5. Oh, i struggle with this too. I can be social, but I much prefer people to approach me. This was beautifully written.

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    1. Thank you, Leigh Ann! Yes, I'd rather be approached, too. Not for any reason other than if someone approaches me, I know they want to talk to me. It's never guaranteed the other way around.

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  6. I think that's a lovely thing to do, Andrea!
    I always get people saying Hi to me when I'm with my boys, especially the little one. They're people magnets. It makes it easier for me to say Hi back, as I am socially awkward too. :)

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    1. Moms with kids are the easiest people to talk to. Because we always have something to say about our kids. :)

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  7. That your pastor motivated you was cool. That you responded to that motivation, doubly cool. That you could write about it so thoughtfully, Andrea, well, that's off the cool chart. Great descriptive stuff that put me in the pew next to you! I sure hope you're submitting some of your pieces in competition. They could win. Keep up the good work.

    jmz

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Joe! I appreciate it so much.

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  8. This is so beautifully put. It's hard for me to approach people too, and I know that you really put yourself out there to do it. You have a gift of describing settings as well of feelings - just beautiful stuff here.

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    1. Thanks so much, MJ! That means a lot coming from you - I love your writing.

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  9. I think this is so interesting because I would have been like your husband and "Hello-ing" all over the place. That is different than "ho-ing" by the way... ;p That baby is precious. And so is your son.

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    1. Thanks, Elaine! I would want to be standing next to you as you are hello-ing your way through the lobby. Or ho-ing, for that matter. That baby is my niece - isn't she the cutest?

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  10. I am not shy or an introvert, but there are some places that I'm just not that interested in talking to people. One of those is church. I have no idea what that says about me.

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    1. Huh. What does that say? I really get it, though. I don't like to sit next to anyone at church except for my family, and my best friends are all there. We all sit in the same section, but in different rows.

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  11. Like you I don't easily go up to new people, particularly in a big group ... unless I'm doing it for work, and then I'm fearless. In the past I've given myself assignments like the one your pastor gave you, turning it into my job to seek out a certain number of people. Somehow in my brain that makes it okay.

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    1. That's a good point. An assignment helps me, too, but I wish it could be a more natural thing for me. It always seems so forced at first.

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  12. I love these exchanges, and that is EXACTLY how I would feel and act if the pastor had given those instructions. Eek.

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    1. Eek is right! I find myself looking for a side door to slink out of, usually.

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