Sometimes it is enough to notice one another. For the time being, it’s the best we can do. 

To wave. To wave back. And go on.
When you read these words I hope you understand it is my way of waving to you. And I hope, with all my heart that you wave back. Page 82 from What On Earth Have I Done? By Robert Fulghum

I’m a waver. Doesn’t matter if I know you or not. The fact that we happen to be occupying the same space at the same time, with all the people that have gone before us and will likely come after, seems worth acknowledging. As my favorite pastor is fond of quoting, “You can’t do everything, but you can do something.”  

Most people probably don’t think of themselves as wavers or non-wavers (most people probably don’t think about it at all), but I’ve noticed some definite types and trends. 

I’ll start with The Neighborly Wave. It’s usually a fairly innocuous lifting of the hand, rarely raised much above the shoulder. Nothing fancy here. Now depending on your personality, there may be some variations that accompany it. Small smile perhaps, maybe a self-conscious glance around to see if anyone’s looking. Sometimes it’s a bewildered look. As if the person was caught off guard and is suddenly unsure they ought to have waved. If the waver is driving, their palm probably remains resting on the steering wheel, with the fingers extended.

Then there’s The Younger Guy wave. (Old enough to drive, young enough to still be cool.) There’s not always an entire hand involved with this one, though the index finger may extend above the steering wheel for just a second. If it doesn’t, the raised head nod, chin lifted upwards, is often what you get. Acknowledgment, but not too much put out there. (I’m loosely referring to this as a wave as it counts as acknowledgment.) Cautious, but still making an effort. I happen to be married to a high school teacher. I mention this because the only time I’ve seen younger guys smile in concert with their wave/nod is when they recognize my husband in which case they sometimes forget themselves and resort to something akin to the Girly Friend Wave (which I’ll get to in a minute). Otherwise, nary a smile with these guys. This can also often be a dude-on-motorcycle response, though we all know that those folks also have a Dudes-On-Motorcycles-Reserved-Only-For-Each-Other Wave that I’m a little envious of. It’s like a sidewise high five, and it looks super cool. 

There’s of course the Farmer/Construction Worker Wave which usually has to be done while steering or navigating some sort of machinery. The benefit of waving to these guys (or girls) is that they generally see you coming a ways away. Like they’re ready. They often smile too. Now unless they’re of the younger/cool guy variety that I mentioned earlier, will usually wave with a head nod. A few fingers lifted up, but staying in contact with whatever they’re managing and either a chin up nod, or a regular trucker nod; who by the way are excellent and faithful wavers as a rule. Truckers were my first exposure to this waving notion. Waving to truckers on long car trips as a kid always broke up the monotony some, introduced a sense of excitement and camaraderie. The world seemed friendlier all of a sudden. Hopeful.

Then there’s the Girly Friend Wave. This is the kind that’s most often made fun of (at least in our house. Enter husband and children. Enter TC Wavers. That is, Too Cool/Non-Wavers). It is the most exuberant. Teeth all showing, excited, almost frenzied look on the face with eyebrows raised, eyes wide open and the most vigorous waving of a hand (or two) raised at head – or slightly above head – level. Maybe a little bouncing up and down. But happy to see each other girlfriends don’t usually care. “Sooo happy to see each other” trumps the opinion of the folks around them. Which is probably why it’s so refreshing and not incidentally what may tempt others to make fun of them. Who doesn’t, deep down, want to live on occasion with unabashed abandon? But we mock what we don’t understand, don’t we, husband and children?

The next one is from those who are preoccupied with the mail they’ve just retrieved or the thought that they’re thinking, and are often older folks who no longer care about being cool. This is the Tired But Willing Wave. People in this category are not part of the club that is motorcycle culture, aren’t typically piloting any machinery, and load their wave with nothing extra like head nods, smiles or various finger distortions. They lack the familiarity (and/or energy) for the Girly Friend Wave. They wave out of polite response. Nothing extra, nothing loaded. Slightly different from the Neighborly Wave in that there’s no second guessing their response, no self-consciousness of any kind.

Which brings us to my favorite. 

Older folks, most often the male gender, and I mean this with all the respect in the world,  are by far the Very Best Wavers. I also call this the Wesley Wave in honor of a neighbor of mine who is always, always, always good for a long, lingering, intentional wave. Arm raised high and deliberate above the head, whether the person’s sitting or standing. And not only do they wave with glorious intentionality, but they often let the wave linger long after you’ve passed by. No self-consciousness, no overthinking (why is that crazy lady I don’t know waving to me and ought I wave back ’cause she may be crazy). They just wave back because they can; and maybe even because they want to. Like they’re glad to see ya, glad to acknowledge ya, glad you passed by, and even linger and perpetuate the thing as if they want to keep it going.

        I rarely know until I’ve waved whether or not the favor will be returned. And oh yes, it is a favor. Favor defined (in part) is “an act of kindness beyond what is due or usual” and “a small gift or souvenir.” A wave offered or returned is one of those small but not incidental things a person can do in response to his fellow man. When you wave, you’re acting for the benefit of, the edification of, someone out of your own fount of ability. It’s a simple yet viable effort to acknowledge another person. A small but intentional gesture that says, “I see you and I choose to acknowledge the seeing. Hi there, be on your way a bit more cheerfully for having been seen.” (For isn’t that what we all crave? To be seen and known?)

Truth is, you never know how a small kindness will impact the world. But a simple wave seems an awfully manageable start.

Be a Waver.


2 thoughts on “Wavers

  1. Okay, I absolutely *love* this, in part because I’m a terrible introvert. If I saw you waving to me on the street, I would first look around to be sure it was me you were waving to (because I’ve had so many horribly embarrassing moments where I smile or wave back to someone only to realize they were actually communicating with a person behind me and then they look at me like I’m nuts). But even if I could confirm I was the “wav-ee,” I’d most likely duck my head and try to hide or pretend I didn’t see the wave in the first place. Why? Intense shyness. A wave sometimes feels like opening a door to a conversation, and it takes a lot of bravery for me to not just open it, but then, to actually walk through it.

    Your comments, Amy, on my blog are like a wave, a wave that I’m sometimes unsure of how to return. Please, please don’t take that personally. I’m trying, really trying, to come out of my shell for the sake of my daughter. So consider this the wave returned: A confession. If you comment to me and I don’t respond, it’s usually because I came to YOUR blog instead to read one of your amazing poems or essays or thoughts. The comments I do respond to on my blog are to those bloggers whose blogs I’ve read everything on already. 🙂 Part of that’s my OCPD–it’s like a system I’ve set for myself and now it’s easy to treat it like a rule.

    But because I want to try out being a waver, here are some answers to the questions you’ve posed recently to me:

    1. Yes, I am originally from the city in the banner on my blog. Unfortunately, I’ve been away from there for too long, living in Alabama for grad school and now in Indiana where my husband works. But I miss the ‘Burgh with every fiber in my body. I hope someday to return. It would have been cool, though, to share some kind of proximity with you. I admire and respect you as a woman, mother, and a writer, and it would have been cool to imagine actually meeting you, sitting down to an IRL cup of tea or coffee. Maybe, in the great someday?

    2. Thanks for asking: I *am* still off cigarettes! It’s not a sore subject; in fact, I feel better and better about it everyday! My husband is still stuck on nicotine gum, so keep him in your thoughts for me, if you would. I started smoking in part because I am so shy, and it gave me some way to hide in plain sight. In putting down the packs, I’ve freed a hand to wave, literally and figuratively.

    Suffice it to say, Amy, you’ve inspired me! And what’s really interesting to me: I know this post of yours is older, but until I scrolled back up, I didn’t realize it was written the day after I gave birth to my daughter, which is what, ultimately, brought me to blogging in the first place. 🙂 Consider this my big fat wave to you and the universe and to all you’ve written thus far and all you still have in you to share (and which I look forward to reading!)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. *Happy, satisfied, warm, and contented sigh.* And then, LOVE. In every respect, on every level, for all your bravery and willingness to hash things out both with yourself, the world and now astoundingly with me. Love. And I am so proud of you for continuing on in your quitting! It took being pregnant and impossibly sick for me to quit. In other words, I didn’t do it myself. Once again, Providence had to do it for me. You’re downright amazing. Thank you for all of this. Again, again, and again. And I am so very happy to be your wavee. 🙂

    Would you prefer less comments from me? This is my year of honest, so I’ll bear it graciously if you answer yes. Also, I don’t expect you to answer back. I trust that people comment when and if they feel led… But I do appreciate your taking the time to explain all of this to me. Thank you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s