My morning started with a wave to my neighbor, Mark and his canine companion Roscoe, as they returned from their morning walk. The autumn snap in the air enticed me to follow his example and I set out on my routine jaunt. Even though I’ve been walking up and down my meandering street for 30 years, I always notice a new detail, like the absence of a cedar tree that’s been removed or a house that sports a new color. Frequently, I’ll stop and talk to people along the way—especially if they have dogs—so I can get my canine fix for the day.
Hellos and good-byes from this morning’s stroll got me to thinking about the customs I grew up with. For example, as a child, I was always expected to rise from the couch or wherever I was and join my parents to greet guests at the door. Sullen sitting was not allowed. If I was in a room occupying the last chair and a grown-up came in, I was taught to offer my seat to them. (This was not true for my brother and sister, with our elaborate crissy-crossy rituals that lay claim to primo easy-chairs. We fought bitterly and frequently about who sat where.)
Not offering a seat to an elder was taboo in our family, but that seems like a dead custom today. Though older than the majority of the working population, I was the person most likely to offer my bus seat to the elderly or infirm (who were frequently younger than me). Only once in my bus riding history did anyone, a young man with droopy pants, offer me a place to sit. I lavishly praised his parents for their child-rearing techniques and I’m sure he thought I was crazy—in addition to being old.
These acts of common courtesy are indeed small, when compared to heroic deeds of the young Syrian man who gave his life jacket to a woman after their boat hit a rock while crossing to freedom. He subsequently drowned and is mourned by his young wife and family. There are many such stories of this kind of generosity, throughout history, with many more to come, I am sure.
How does this bring me to the subject of good-bye? We never know when Death will call. We are here today, but will we be here tomorrow? My own sweet parents are both gone now—for some years and I remember how each time I returned to their home, they would set aside what they were doing and greet me with warm hugs and kisses. Then, when it was time to say good-bye, they both made a point of seeing me to the car and standing in their driveway, waving good-bye until I was out of sight.
Those simple well-mannered acts on their part made me feel loved—that I mattered. These acts were gifts from my parents. The gift of their awareness—their presence—in my comings and goings. I try to do the same for my husband, children, grandchildren, and friends. When they enter the house, I rise to greet them. When they leave, I escort them to their car and wave until they are out of sight. I want them to know they are loved. That they matter. That I will miss them when they leave.
While I don’t expect to leave this mortal coil anytime soon, as I celebrate yet another birthday in an increasingly long line of them, I am aware that one day, I will wave farewell to my family and friends for the last time. This last good-bye will never to be followed by a hello—at least on the earthly plane. So I intend to savor each interaction, or at least I will try to, because these common acts are ways of saying to those I love or will come to love—that I see you. You matter. I care.
I was trying to explain to my grandkids (the older ones) that love is an action word—a verb. To love is to act in love, kindness, and with consideration. It’s not enough to say ‘I love you’ to someone, unless my actions demonstrate that my words are true.