Clutching his crooked ebony walking stick, a fragile-looking old gentleman took daily strolls along the shoulder of the winding streets in our neighborhood. He waved at every oncomer. His rhythmic strides were purposeful, not pretentious or hasty. I had no clue who this man was, but just the same I would impulsively wave back.
Often, while I was rushing off to work, the sight of his graceful gesture would capture my attention and force me to slow down. His wave sparked a nostalgic memory of a common practice in the South, where I grew up. People there waved at (or "hailed," as it was called in my neck of the woods) any and everybody they saw. For us, a wave was a welcoming, kindhearted, and peaceful gesture.
Early one Saturday morning, while my husband and I were out walking, we found ourselves heading in the same direction as the man. I wanted to tell him how much I appreciated his warm gesture.
"Excuse me, sir," I called out while I jogged to catch up with him. Slowly he turned around and smiled. "I just wanted to let you know how touched I am to watch you generously wave at everyone," I said. I told him that if I felt a little anxious when I left home, seeing his wave immediately made me feel calmer and happier, and I would slow down. I thanked him and told him that his gesture meant more to me than he'd ever know.
He smiled sheepishly. Although he did not personally know each passerby, he said, his inspiration to wave came from his daily prayer to bless everyone he approached. He added that he felt his walking helped him to stay physically, emotionally, and spiritually fit.
I never asked his name or age, and I have no idea where he lives. Neither did he ask this information of me. Our encounter was brief, but embedded in my mind is this vision of a loving, humble man who speaks volumes without using words. We finished our conversation, bade each other a good day (ironically, with a wave), and then went about our business.
On our trek back home, my husband and I spontaneously started waving at the cars driving past. We'd been bitten by this contagious goodness and noted with pleasure that, for the most part, people returned our wave. We'd ask each other, "Who was that?" then hunch our shoulders and say, "I don't know." It made us cackle like kids.
It baffles me how waving, once a habitual thing in our childhood, has been abandoned - seemingly without good reason. Perhaps our tendency to rush leaves little room for something so simple; it costs us nothing but the employment of a few hand muscles.
I've been reflecting on that old man's behavior. He continues his daily, disciplined journey and his devotion to grace. His blessings to all, expressed through a kind wave, has given me a deep appreciation for his example. I must do my part to pass it on.