The restorative part of my walks are almost always found in the little things.
We can think our lives lack meaning, but the smallest of exchanges can make the biggest difference.
Just the exchange of friendly smiles and hellos as I pass strangers on the pathways lift my spirits. Such a small thing, but to someone feeling lonely and lost or in a dark place, a stranger taking the time to smile, to acknowledge your presence, to offer an hello can be like a warm coat in a storm. I know I am always grateful for a stranger’s smile or greeting when I am in a dark place.
I try to make sure my own smiles and hellos are not merely reflexive. It’s true that it’s a habit I have cultivated, but I try to keep it infused with sincerity. I look at the stranger as they approach and note their demeanour. I make eye contact. I take a moment to consider what their lives might be like. I smile, say hello and let them go. But sometimes, some of them stay with me long after our paths have crossed.
A couple days ago I was in a deep conversation with a friend while I walked along. My phone was tucked in my small purse and my toque and hair covered my earbuds. As I listened to my friend, I noticed a couple standing on the edge of the ridge looking down. The man saw me coming and motioned for me to come over.
“There’s a couple deer down below,” he said, with enthusiasm.
I looked down at the two deer, going about their lives, chewing on twigs, oblivious to the joy they were bringing the humans gazing down at them.
Confusion soon followed as I switched from talking to my friend to commenting on the beauty of the deer and how last week we had spotted a buck in the same spot. I volleyed back and forth sorting out and explaining the conversations to each of them.
I’m talking to someone on the phone.
Some people are showing me some deer on the ridge.
As I carried on, thanking the man for showing me the deer, he called after me, “Say hello to your friend on the phone!”
I relayed the message and we all laughed. The world felt smaller, kinder, more inclusive. And, well…deer!
That was three days ago now and I am still smiling at the memory. And sitting here typing about it now.
Never underestimate the power you can have by taking the time to include strangers in the smallest of interactions.
Of course, negative interactions have a lasting impact as well. It’s been almost 30 years since I was picking up a bunch of balloons for a family reunion. They were filled with helium and bopping about in the backseat of my car. It turned out to be a very unsafe decision.
I made a lane change and a bouncing balloon blocked my view of a vehicle in my blind spot. I don’t know how close we came to colliding, but the man was incensed, so I’d say pretty close. He drove up alongside me honking his horn, his face livid, his middle finger jabbing the air. He wasn’t wrong to be angry, but I still think of him with anxiety all these decades later.
Humans seem wired to want a life fused with meaning. Too often we think that means attaining money, possessions or fame, when a meaningful life can simply be one where we go out each day determined to show kindness to everyone we meet.
And never put balloons in the backseat of your car.