On Waving Back

Walking to the subway this morning on my way to work, I passed a man and his dog. As I approached, the dog looked up at me all friendly like we knew each other, so I said, “Hi puppy dog” and left my arm dangling at my side as I walked by. The dog stuck its muzzle up against my hand, and gave me a quick lick in greeting. Made me smile.

Then, getting off the subway on my way to work, I watched the usual hoards of other passengers – all of us making our various ways to our various destinations – shuffle right on by the little kid in the stroller who was waving at them.

Not one of them waved back.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I hate people as much as anyone, if not more. But even I am not above waving at a little kid who’s waving at me. It’s just not done. It’s practically an automated, instinctive response. Little kid waves, you wave back. So I waved back.

And he didn’t see me.

So, here we have a number of interesting scenarios and the effects of each:

Dog sees me, I see dog, we interact for a split second – day made for at least one of us. Moment made for both.

Kid sees a bazillion people, waves at them, none see him so no one waves back. Or rather, one sees him, waves back, but he doesn’t see it, so it may as well not have happened, from his point of view. To his mind, no one waved back at him. Watching his little face register the realization of his own invisibility among the morning masses was actually kind of sad. He’s too little to feel like that, and yet, even if I projected most of what he might be feeling or thinking, the little hand faltering and his smile falling away as it became more tentative and unsure can not be disputed. I’m sure he’ll wave again, because little kids have the information retention of a rubber ball, but I’m also sure that, somewhere deep inside, he’ll remember how that felt, to not be noticed. And it’ll affect him in small ways going forward.

Then there’s me – I’m used to not being noticed. I usually strive to not be noticed. But I felt bad that I didn’t make his moment with a wave-back that he could see, and – in more selfish terms – it would have made my morning even better to have felt like I did something for the little kid, as much as the dog did for me. Like paying it forward, but for how it would make me feel.

And finally, there are the masses; those who missed the wave all together. How much better could their moments have been had they just looked up and given a second to notice the world around them? It’s like we all walk around in our own little bubbles of reality, wherein nothing and no one else exists unless we let them in. It’s a necessary skill to have, to be sure, because the onslaught of humanity’s dark underbelly (especially in cities and particularly public transit) is often too much to bear. But then we miss things that would make it seem less overwhelmingly negative, even just in little ways. We miss hearts, we miss sunsets and sunrises, we miss worms on the sidewalk just trying to reach grass before the sun bakes them where they “stand”.

We miss lots of gross things, too, like hairy ass cracks and piles of vomit on the sidewalk.

But we also miss licks and tail wags from doggies, and confident, friendly waves from little kids. We miss some of the things that could help shape us into better people. We miss things that could make our lives suck a little less. We have to find a way to strike a balance between things that we do notice and interact with, and things that we don’t. It’s maybe impossible, though.

Because sometimes, those things also miss us.

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1 thought on “On Waving Back”

  1. I’m a waver. I’ve gotten many strange looks over the years, but generally people warm up once you treat them like a human being. I’m also the one who rushes over to help the lost, the fainters or the elderly. I think lots of people are stuck in their own heads, routines and troubles. It’s scary to make yourself vulnerable by making yourself stand out in any way in a crowd, and I’ve been burned, too. But I personally enjoy 80% of my interactions with strangers. I am not surprised that people in cities get overwhelmed, though. There are just too damn many of us.

    Like

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