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.