We invited a long-time but seldom-seen friend to come over for dinner the other night. We spent the afternoon preparing a small feast for the three of us: barbecued salmon, chicken, and pork; roasted corn and green chiles; coleslaw with bleu cheese and cashews; greens with sliced avocado, and cilantro dressing; and steamed brown rice. When he arrived, we opened a bottle of California Pinot Noir, filled every inch of the table with food, and sat down to eat and share stories.
Laughing our way through accounts of university politics and the perils of Internet dating, we somehow landed on the subject of the common courtesies missing from human interactions. In the 1960s, as an undergraduate at a Franciscan college, our friend was taught at freshman orientation that students, faculty, and staff were to say hello to everyone. No matter who, or what their job, class, race, gender, or standing in the college community – greet everyone.
The next day, I set out with the intention of walking 10 miles (I’d done almost 8 the day before) and experimenting with saying hello. Equipped with “camel,” granola bar, hat, sunglasses, cell phone, and pedometer, I left the house. The Beatles’ refrain, “hello, hello…. I don’t know why you say good-bye, I say hello” suddenly played in my head (I have no iPod!) as I rounded a curve in the road and saw another walker coming toward me. “Hello,” I said. She greeted me, also, and told me that she had just seen 2 coyotes, a little further down. I told her about the desiccated but very recognizable rattlesnake carcass I had almost stepped on, a few yards back.
I waved hello to passing cars and bicyclists, and said hello to blue-tailed skinks, white-tailed bunnies, plume-crested quails. I greeted the man walking his golden retriever, and the woman in a large straw hat and long white sleeves. As I passed through a nearly empty parking lot on my way to the main road, I said “Hello! How was your run?” to two African distance runners who were toweling off and changing shirts. They smiled. One said, “Very good. We just finished. Are you starting your run now?” I laughed. "No, only walking." “Well, that’s good, too” said the other. “I am getting ready for a 60-mile walk,” I said. “Sixty miles?! I could run maybe half that far,” said the second. “It’s 20 miles a day, for 3 days,” I explained. The first runner tapped his head, saying “it’s all mental.” We waved and grinned our good-byes.
By the time I returned home with an empty camel, I had walked 9.78 miles and greeted the gas station attendant (“thanks for the clean restroom!”), the vendor selling a cord of split wood out of his pick-up truck by the side of the road, several bicyclists, a few pedestrians, and the sun that kept disappearing into the clouds and reappearing in a blaze of light and heat. It felt good to connect. Hello, world!