Thank You, Ruth Harper, And Goodbye
by Bob Olson
A recent newspaper article featured a story about a woman who was hit by a car and died. It was a hit-and-run accident that occurred just up the street from my home. Although we didn’t know the seventy-five-year-old woman, my wife, Melissa, and I could not help but to feel deeply disturbed by the news of her death. Let me explain why…
A couple years ago while I was driving down my street, I saw this same woman walking her dog. Her back was to me, but as soon as she heard my car, she turned and waved “hello.” Hesitantly, I waved back—I was afraid she would realize I was someone she did not know and think I was strange waving back at her. But in the time I thought about it, she was far behind me.
The next time I saw this woman walking her dog, she again turned at the sound of my car and began waving to me. Not so surprised this time, I waved back with enthusiasm. It felt good to have a new friend in the world to wave “hello” to.
This went on for some time. I was excited for Melissa to witness this kind woman’s greeting, so one day when I spotted the woman down the road, I forewarned Melissa that she was in for a treat by exclaiming, “Oh, there’s my new friend…” As I drove by waving, Melissa waved along too with a curious look on her face.
As my schedule changed, I didn’t see the nice woman anymore. Melissa would often comment, “I wonder where our friend is today.” As silly as it may sound, we felt a sadness whenever we drove down the street without seeing her.
The newspaper interviewed the man who found the woman’s body. The man said he didn’t know the woman, but he normally saw her on his way to breakfast—she always waved to him as he drove by. This particular morning he didn’t see her. On his return from breakfast, he noticed her body on the side of the snow-covered road. Although he phoned the police immediately from his cellular phone, her injuries were fatal. She was pronounced dead at the hospital a couple hours later.
Melissa mentioned to me that she felt compelled to go to the funeral services. “But we don’t even know her,” I said, not admitting I felt the same impulse. “I know,” she responded, “I just feel like we had a connection with her.” I agreed, of course. And it was then that I discovered a little lesson about life.
I don’t know if this sweet woman was a little nutty or just unusually friendly, but her simple gesture of waving “hello” to every car that drove by somehow touched people. I know she touched Melissa, myself and that man who found her on the side of the road. I’m sure there were many others.
I drive by many of the same people day after day and feel nothing. Heck, I have worked with people day in and day out and felt less connection with them. Perhaps if they had just returned a smile now and then it would have been different. Instead, sometimes the best part of my day was when a stranger waved to me on my way home.
I’m not suggesting that we all begin waving “hello” to strangers, but I can think of worse habits to start. I’ll bet most car drivers have exchanged derogatory hand signals to a lot more strangers than they have waved “hello” to. Why are we so uncomfortable waving “hello” to people we don’t know?
Have you ever smiled at someone in the hall at work, or on the street, and had them just stare blankly at you? Doesn’t that feel lousy? Why are we so cold to one another? Especially when it feels so good to exchange… well, I guess I’ll call it an expression of love.
Couldn’t a wave “hello” be considered a gesture that sends a little love? A smile might fall into the same category, although I think it’s safer to smile at someone than to give them a big wave. So a wave must send more love than a smile. And a hug would be sending even more love. And a kiss would hold a mountain of love.
Ever hug a child? Ever be hugged by a child—one of those great big bear hugs? It feels so good it makes your spine melt. Children don’t hold back their love until adults teach them to. That’s why nobody hesitates to wave or smile at a child—we know the child will reciprocate. Maybe that is our problem; we fear that others won’t reciprocate the love we send.
Perhaps the reason we sometimes stare blankly at a person who smiles at us is because we are caught off-guard, even suspicious, of anyone we don’t know who is sending us love. “What do they want? They must want something from me? Am I being manipulated here? I must beware.”
By the time we think it through and realize that there are no strings attached to their smile, the person is gone and the moment is over. Now we have hurt that person. Sure it’s a minor hurt, but we rejected them just the same. When we finally get a second chance to smile at that person at a future date, they’re gun shy and look away. They don’t want to risk being rejected again.
An individual only needs to be rejected a few times before he or she will stop waving and smiling at strangers altogether. Before you know it, nobody’s exchanging love with anyone they don’t know and trust. The result is the world as we know it—a world that needs more people who are not afraid to wave and smile at one another. Our world needs more people like that nice old woman on my street. Yet, now we have lost her.
With the help of this loving woman who wasn’t afraid to wave “hello” to everyone passing her on the street, I learned a valuable lesson. Unfortunately, she had to die before I really thought about it. I guess, though, it’s not unusual for death to teach us the most important lessons about life. Thanks to this wonderful soul, I have learned a lesson while I am still healthy and alive. Thank you, Ruth Harper, and goodbye.