What changed for you those first couple of days in March 2020,when everything shut down for Covid-19?
Honestly, it was the little things for me. I sent a handwritten note to an older gentleman that I saw standing on the side of the road as I drove by each morning, and I was able to mail it to him, because I knew where he lived.
If you read the note, you'll see how my daily routine was altered, and while it seemed so trivial to me (and probably to him), that wave ended up having a bigger impact on my daily emotions than I realized. When I had the opportunity to wave to him everyday, I took it for granted, then when I couldn’t count on that wave, it made me reflect on how many things we do take for granted - as I am sure many of us have done during this last year of change and uncertainty.
Where we will go from here is a really big question, but the impacts from some of it will remain with us for a really long time.
When I saw this older gentleman, he was often standing with who I assumed was his son and grandson at the bus stop. At first, I just noticed them every day, but then I considered waving to them. I saw them everyday on my way to work, they were a part of my life so it seemed natural for me to say hello.
At first, when none of them returned my gesture, I remember feeling really vulnerable - wondering if I should continue. Maybe they didn’t want this strange person to say hello, and I struggled with this denial for a while, but continued waving with no response. Eventually, that changed, and he began waving back.
It’s crazy how it made me feel - it was a huge difference in my day - when he would wave to me I felt 1,000 times stronger. I came to work with a bounce in my step. I even remember telling my students about these denials and then the acceptance. I am sure they thought I was silly, but I asked them what I should do since I was not getting a response.
It was because somebody saw me, noticed me and simply acknowledged me.
But as you know, due to Covid, we lost that commute. So I wrote a note to let him know it was sad for me to lose that daily interaction.
Fast forward through this year of craziness; with little to no commutes and interactions. When restrictions began to lift, we started to come back, but there were less school bus pickups. As my routine returned to normal, he wasn’t there anymore. I remember driving by this spot in the beginning, thinking about the loss. I wondered if he was even ok, because as I mentioned before, he was an older gentleman.
Now, there is so much more normalcy. The end of this current school year has so many of the things we missed last year: excitement for summer, and end of year traditions like graduation and prom are happening again. What will be different, I hope for a long time, is the appreciation we have at seeing a smile, and the expressions on each other's faces. Not to mention the impact of being able to connect physically with another person - hugs and handshakes are slowly coming back.
As I have shared in some spaces, I am leaving the school I have worked for the last 17 years, and that means I will no longer have this commute, but this week I noticed my friend outside his home. What’s different is that he is the one waving at the drivers of the cars that are passing by. I waved the first time I saw him, like it was an old habit. Today however, I realized that he was waving at other cars too, and it made me cry with joy!
In fact, I was sharing this story with my dear friend who also has the same path in her commute, and she reacted with a similar expression of excitement, ‘He waves to everyone! He even waves to me, and when he does it makes me so happy.’
Stop for a minute and think about this one gesture. He waves at everyone he sees, as he now sits in a lawn chair in his yard. It’s not me he is making smile, he is sharing that with everyone that passes him by. This is what struck me this morning; how a simple gesture from someone else, a stranger actually, can have an enormous impact on so many.
Each of us has this opportunity, and if we recognize the impact of our actions, which may not be immediately seen or felt, then we have the power to change so much. It doesn't have to be a grand gesture to change somebody's life, it also doesn't have to be a big production. It's the everyday little things that you do that can have the greatest impact on somebody else.
I have two days left with this commute - I hope he is outside so I can intentionally stop, introduce myself to him properly, and thank him for changing my life. Maybe he’ll even let me give him a hug. If not, then you can be sure I will send him another note. Change is hard, but not as hard when you know someone will carry on a legacy for you!