October 28, 2016, John Æonid
As I approached the front gate where I work this morning, I noticed that I was approaching a different guard than the one there yesterday, which meant that it was Thursday morning, and I knew which guard I could expect to see when I got inside—and what kind greeting I would be getting. I smiled; the anticipation brightened my day. But, before I explain what I was expecting, let me take you back a bit so that you'll really understand what this meant.
A couple of decades ago and for some six years, I lived in a Zen center. We engaged in daily rituals of bowing and chanting, for which I still have strong memories. But, there was another aspect of the practice that came to have great meaning for me, and that was the daily ritual of greeting each resident with a half bow and a “good morning”. Yes, we had a rule that said that, as we encountered each other on-by-one, we had to greet each other with a “good morning” and a half bow.
Well, it might be obvious that such a rule is intended to deal with the usual morning grumpiness that many of us have. However, I came to notice that some expressed a bit more enthusiasm, even a kind of glee. And, I began to feel that the glee was a response to my own enthusiasm. I think my way of greeting people came from my upbringing and my time in the military, which had taught me to deliver an energetic salute or greeting. But, this Zen center practice led to a realization one morning, with a greeting from a fellow resident in which the glee in the enthusiasm felt distinctly personal and connected. The realization was that the “good morning” and the half bow were not all that are exchanged between people.
Of course, “good morning” is wishing someone well, as is any other greeting of this sort. But, it tends to become mundane with all the repetition. That one greeting on that one morning changed my perspective about greetings. Every greeting is an opportunity to form a personal connection, no matter how momentary, in which a certain quality of self is exchanged. This adds energy to the day and strengths the connection between people, one that enhances the perspective that we work to a common good. Maintained over time, this infuses an energy of cooperation and good will into a society that very, very desperately needs it.
When I started my current job not quite a year ago, there was this guard who would be here on Thursdays and Fridays. And, from the very first time he greeted me as I came into the building, it began; he greeted me enthusiastically with: “happy Friday eve”, and the jovial friendliness of this person has greeted me that way every Thursday morning since, and with a “happy Friday” the following day. Well, I loved it the first time, and I have loved it every time since. So, for the history I explained above, I couldn't help but want to respond. I would even see if I could occasionally try to beat him to it—wishing him the same greeting. One morning fairly recently, we were exactly on tempo with each other and it came out as a duet of “happy Friday eve”.
Eventually, he asked my name and I got to know his. Occasionally, we’d chat a bit. The discussion were the usual kind of friendly getting to know something about someone. But you see, those little things now have a meaning for me that I’m not sure I would have gotten otherwise. The connectedness is in all the things we exchange--no matter how mundane, yet they are magnified when we share them in a spirit of enthusiasm. And, I know that not everyone gets that.
My current workplace is a big building. There are wide corridors and a sea of cubicles on three floors. Many walk the halls in a dull fog, and many avert their face or look down as they pass you, with a clear intent to signal that they would rather avoid the awkwardness of a “hello”, perhaps to hide some manner of misery. Yet, others are every bit as enthusiastic as the man I describe above. And, aside from worrying about what misery leads a person to avoid a greeting, this leads me to the dilemma of wanting to know when a “hello” would be an imposition, or when it would be enthusiastically embraced. The best I can do is offer a glance to see if my gaze is met; and if not, return my gaze to what's ahead of me. But, if I'm too passive in this, I might also be taken for one of those that prefers to be let alone, and this I absolutely do not want. This World has become too cold hearted and harsh; more people need to know the major importance of what I describe.
Maybe some people see this as a kind of superficial mushiness, and that everybody engaging in this way would just become a plastic saccharin robot. So, I must be clear about this. We are not going to become blind to the challenges that people face. This is not going to become a bunch of people pretending that they are happy. The goal is to treasure that momentary connection, one that opens your heart with a genuine appreciation of what can be shared in such a brief moment. It has the intent to open the pathways that bring people together—not an attempt to push the realities of our situations out of our consciousness. The intent is to engage in an exchange of appreciation from a place of genuine recognition that all people do matter. It's an un-deniable fact; all people matter.
So, to finish the story of my morning, I anticipated the greeting I would receive this morning; and sure enough, there he was; and the words came out as anticipated: “happy Friday eve”, fist bump included. But, this morning I had to tell him, with a solid handshake, about the anticipation I had coming in. I had to tell him how much I appreciated his greeting, why I thought it was important, and how I thought it was something this World needs more of.
Then he tells me this is his last week at this location. If I had not stopped to talk to him, I might not have known, and I would have regretted not telling how appreciated he is. Seriously, people do, in fact, have bittersweet memories of people for whom they lost their chance to express their appreciation, and I am one of those. There are people, many that I don't even remember their names, and I still think of them and wish I could tell them that I have good memories of them and that I appreciate them for those memories.
This last conversation with that guard ended with a soulful handshake and a hug, big man that he is. That smiling face will be with me the rest of my life. I wished him well in all that was ahead of him and headed off. I hesitate to admit it, as soppy as it sounds, but I feel I must; my eyes were more than a little moist. I went upstairs to my desk. I told others whom I'd seen him speaking with, as I knew that they would want a chance to say “good by”, as well. I also made a point of telling others how much I appreciated their own friendly greetings. This is something the World needs. Spread it around.
Peace, Blessings, Insight, and Clarity
Post Script: Today was the guard's last day at this location, and I was able to give him a printed copy of what I've written here. — Oct. 28, 2016