Friday, March 03, 2006

To Say or Not Say Hello

My husband and I went into a fast-food-chicken restaurant recently; because of the long line, an employee came over to us to take our order. Beyond two or three people standing in line, I saw one of my former students, working—taking orders and going back and forth to get food. I was going to say hello to her, but she never looked at me. I felt like she knew I was there, and that made me feel strange.

This is a silly and trivial thing, and nothing to be bothered about, really. However! I am noticing a trend in that direction among the young—from about puberty to about twenty-two—okay, high school and college age people. (And I am not trying to pick on the young. It is just something I have noticed about the way they do things, which is different from the way most other people around here act.) I know I am not imagining it, because I have talked to several other people who have noticed the same thing and have been made to feel strange by it. It happens to more people than just me.

What happens is this. You are walking somewhere, and here comes the kid, whom you recognize. His eyes are looking away, down, out to the side, anywhere but at you. You are the only other person around. He never looks at you, but you know that he knows you are there. One of two things happens.

1. You assume he is busy listening to voices somewhere (his i-pod?) or deep in meditation, and you don’t want to disturb him. You just pass right by him and don’t say a word. He keeps going, never having looked at you. You feel as if you are in the Twilight Zone.

2. When you get about even with him, you say, “Hi, Kevin!” or whatever his name is.
He suddenly looks at you, somehow surprised to see you, and says, very cordially, “Well, hello, Mrs. McGillicuddy!” or whatever your name is. Then he may even stop and talk for a few minutes.

But the thing is, he doesn’t speak—or even look—unless you make the first move.

Are we all so separate from each other, or terrified of each other, or terrified of what we might say, or nervous about how we might be perceived, that we can’t even look at each other? And—why am I bothered by this?

In that chicken restaurant, I should have just spoken out across the customers and said, “Hello, Christi!”* I’ve decided that from now on, I’m going to make the first move. I’d rather do that than be in the Twilight Zone. There are enough things that separate people already, as it is—important things.

*This is not really her name!

1 comment:

ts said...

i think young people will appreciate your initiative. i've heard it said that we christians should be themostats, not thermometers.

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