It’s Never What You Think

Don’t you just hate when you miss the obvious?


One of the Happiness Habits I adopted early on was waving. Yes indeed, plain old waving. If I was not close enough to say ‘Hi’ to a passerby, I waved. And having just had an encounter with the saying ‘In a world where you can be anything—be kind’, I was determined to double down on my waving efforts, thinking of them as a friendly extension of kindness.


Yesterday, as I was walking Hadley, we hit a 3-car string of non-wavers. This had never happened before. We walk on a rural County Round early in the morning, with very little traffic, so it is easy to keep track of what we see. Having taken note of the 3-car no return wave trend, I began to consciously think of what we were likely to encounter next, and I realized that, in the years we had been walking and waving, there are 5 generic types of responses to my waving:


  • Those drivers with both hands clenching the steering wheel, who don’t make eye contact as they speed up to get past us as quickly as possible. The “I’m in a hurry with no time or effort to spare” kind.

  • Pet owner drivers who, smiling at Hadley, drive into the oncoming lane to give her as much safe space as possible. The “pets are people, too” kind.

  • Those drivers who, seeing me wave, smile and enthusiastically return the gesture, swerving because they are not looking where they are going. The “Who Me? thrilled to have been noticed” kind.

  • Those drivers who, upon seeing me wave, pull over convinced that I am in distress and need help. The “missed the larger picture/context” kind. Someday I just might need them, so I always say thank you.

  • Grumpy old men driving pickup trucks. These drivers slow to almost a stop as Hadley and I wave and walk toward them. They maintain eye contact, and when we are close enough to see it, they lift a finger or two a few inches off the steering wheel to wave back. Only when we are safely behind them, do they continue on their way. (Note: I do not know for certain that any of these older male drivers are in fact grumpy, but they remind me of the two cantankerous old men in the movie by the same name.)


As we continued walking, waiting for the next driver to appear, I thought about how I would react seeing a woman with a dog waving at me at first thing in the morning. Which driver type would I be?


The more I thought about this, the more I realized that at different times in my life, I would have been any of the first four. I was hardly old enough to be in the Grumpy Old Man category, so that one was discarded, leaving me somewhere between drivers 2 and 3.


With no 4th car yet in sight, I began trying to stall, knowing when Creation puts a situation in front of me, and I posit a response, if there is a grand pause in the action I have likely come up with the wrong answer.


Which driver would I be?


In the deafening silence, the answer was clear. On any given day, I was all of the first four types—in a hurry, only noticing what I want to see, thrilled with getting attention, and I sometimes made assumptions not putting the entire situation in context. Really, Creation—it’s only 6.30 am. Can’t you give me a break?


There was still no 4th car in sight, so I had to deal with the obvious implication. The driver responses to my waving were clearly a metaphor for my life; it had to be the Grumpy Old Man category. The only one I discounted.


So, I recapped. The Grumpy Old Men slowed down but didn’t swerve or stop; they took the time they needed. The Grumpy Old Men held eye contract, letting me know beyond any doubt they saw me. And when I was close enough to see it, The Grumpy Old Men, in their own subtle vernacular, waved back. Only when I was safely behind them, did they continue on their way.


There it was. It’s never what you think. Don’t you just hate when you miss the obvious?


Grumpy Old Men were a perfect example of mindfulness.


Mindfulness: the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.


I had experienced the Grumpy Old Man response to my waving for years, and never, ever, in that time had I considered it had something to teach me.


Okay, Creation, I hear you. I better redouble my efforts and practice noticing and being present.


Here’s to Grumpy Old Men and the lessons they have to teach us all.


—Robin

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