When walking alone, you think more about everything. When I am alone I become hyper conscious of my movements (like when you start thinking about your breathing), the ache in my hips, the size of my steps. At night I am afraid of my surroundings, of what I cannot see in the dark. In the daytime I am unsure of people. Should I make eye contact with the approaching walker or awkwardly shuffle past? Should I say hello? How do they see me?
I was speeding down my driveway when I saw my young neighbors next door out on their front lawn. They had the lawn chairs out so I knew it was a selling day. Since all three siblings have been old enough to run (or waddle) up to my door, they’ve peddled journals, coloring books, paper fans, and goldfish. Today’s big money maker: Iced Tea. I slowed to a halt in front of the middle child, who was carefully spooning ice out of the tea pitcher into a bowl. Interesting… I inquired if the bowl would stop the ice from melting (his verdict: no), wished them luck with their sales, and walked on.
To the left I heard a sharp, angry noise. My eyes pivoted towards the source, a man calling out to his dog, then followed the dog as it obediently bounded back to it’s owner. Figuring it would be weird to leave after having stared for a minute, I threw out a “Hello!” and the man answered back, transforming the voice that initially startled me into a warm greeting to ask about my day.
Encouraged by this response I continued on my walk, meeting five dogs, a woman with her daughter on shoulders, and a small child dragging an over sized rake towards her leaf pile. I complimented her on her pile. She didn’t respond, but that was okay. One man went farther and asked me my name, and we talked for a while about how to prevent birds from flying into windows.
Now there is no more doubt as I walk home. We are all just humans who are bad at loving each other and this makes it a little bit easier. Yes, you should make eye contact, yes, you should say hello. What’s the worst that can happen? My worries about seeming strange or invasive were unfounded. They all just wanted for their dogs to lick me, to know my name, to interact. All the mother wanted was for her child to wave hello.