July 23, 2014

Something about a wave makes one seem friendly, often sparking a reciprocating wave. Some people are good wavers, lifting their hand to any passing car or pedestrian. Others merely wave in response to others. In some parts of the U.S., waving dissipates quite a bit. As a Midwesterner, I am tempted to just claim those Northeasterners I visited just are not as friendly as the people I grew up around! Sometimes I like to slow down when passing someone I know and give them my best "Miss America" wave (and I am good at it, albeit with slightly larger wrists).

Although I do not always start a waving moment with other people, I consistently wave back - usually with a smile. A wave seems to say I am noticed, and perhaps even appreciated for being there. A simple form of nonverbal communication, waving can send an important message. Having recently moved, I find a wave often serves as the first introduction to a new neighbor - even if words do not follow for days. If not for waves, we might seem completely isolated even in the midst of a neighborhood!

Waving is often the first message between new neighbors.

Several months ago, my wife and I suddenly found ourselves greeted with a wave from nearly every person driving by us as we walked through our neighborhood. As I waved back, I looked carefully to see if we knew the person. When I recognize someone, my wave increases in intensity. However, I rarely knew these wavers but noticed they usually also flashed a big smile at us.

The sudden increase in waving - along with chuckles - sparked conversations as we wondered what had changed. I even looked down at my clothes thinking I must have a bad mess on my shirt or an embarrassing hole in my pants! Why is it that too much friendly attention makes me think people are laughing at me instead of merely being nice? The new wave of waving continued for a couple of weeks as we felt like we had entered into a mix of The Twilight Zone and Pleasantville.

One day I saw a flash of movement just as a car arrived with its passengers smiling and waving. My son - not even two at the time - lifted up his little hand and waved it as he saw the car approaching. We watched and he did it again as another car appeared. Something about seeing this little kid smile and wave created a natural, knee-jerk reaction of laughter and waving. He is much cuter than me and therefore more likely to garner a wave and smiles! As nice as my wave may seem, his wave is not only cuter but also more enthusiastic. Kids - and dogs - are much better at greeting people and making them feel truly welcome.

When not waving, my son enjoys "walking" our dog.

My son teaches me a lot - as he wears me out! One of those lessons continues to be the appropriateness of Jesus’s metaphor of childlike faith. Children are good neighbors, until we teach them to be suspicious of others. They greet strangers with simple, unjudging smiles and waves. They do not allow artificial lines like property boundaries to keep them from visiting, unless you put up a big fence to confine their adventures.

Sure, we keep them safe with our fences and rules about not talking to strangers. I feel those natural urges as I seek to protect my son and teach him how to act "appropriately" (such as the importance at not staring at interesting people – or uninteresting ones, for that matter). But as I help him mature, he helps me relearn how to live with a childlike attitude (although my wife might instead claim I never completely matured).

Does waving over a fence count as being neighborly?

Being a good neighbor - the second great commandment - means much more than waving. However, that simple gesture seems like a good, simple start - and beats crossing the road to walk by on the other side! Perhaps a wave and smile will be just what someone needs today. I wonder how many people on their way home from a bad day at work found their mood lightened by my cute son excited to see their car approach. Perhaps he even saved a marriage by putting someone in a better mood (probably not, but he is seriously cute enough to do that).

So, if I see you on the street, I may or may not wave first. But if you wave, I probably will smile and wave back. I am not as cute or as neighborly as my son, but I am trying (on both counts).