Almost every day I take the little boy I watch for a walk around Jamaica Pond. Some days he is in a Bjorn (a kind of baby backpack, but worn in the front), some days a stroller. People are friendlier on the Pond. Often they’ll even talk to me, which happens much less on the city streets, just yards away. Of course babies are always an acceptable topic of conversation. And the albino squirrel that hangs out near the boat house often stirs comments. I was watching it once (it almost looks like a mink rather than a squirrel) and a man jogged by and said, “Look!” pointing at the squirrel. I smiled and nodded and he panted, “Very rare!” in a didactic tone, and kept running. Another time I walked by a sweet little old man in red glasses who was watching the squirrel, and he looked up at me with the biggest grin on his face. I grinned back at him, and we shared a moment of complete understanding and joy, though neither of us said a word.
Today on the Pond another old man surprised me as we passed by asking, “Are you going to look at me and say ‘hi’?”
“Hi!” I said, stopping, and we both looked at the baby. Babies are always an acceptable topic of conversation.
“He’s sleeping,” I pointed out unnecessarily.
“Is his face warm enough?” the man asked, concerned.
In fact, Baby was so bundled up in leggings, sweaters, fleece pants, hat, mittens and snow suit that he couldn’t move, and had promptly gone to sleep in protest.
“Oh, he’s fine,” I assured the old man. We contemplated Baby for another minute, then wished each other a good day and moved on.
I love that old man for asking the question. It reminded me of a story from Acts, when a beggar at the temple asks Peter and John for money. Before the conversation continues there is a crisp sentence that changes the whole tone of the narrative: “Peter looked straight at him, as did John.” Someone once said that if you had any one verse of the Bible, you could grasp the whole gospel message. What message would one intuit from that verse? What would your life be like if you lived it based on the gospel of looking straight at everyone you saw? Of noticing and acknowledging everyone around you?
“Are you going to look at me and say hi?” I wonder the same thing every time I pass someone, but I would never be bold enough to ask. I just glance up, shyly, making brief eye contact, smiling slightly, noncommittally. You pass so many people in the city it would really be impractical to greet everyone. But I love the brief moments of connection when people do take the time to say hi. It happens more often on Jamaica Pond. You can let go of your defenses a little there, and entrust yourself to the breeze coming off the water, the rustling trees, the scurrying grey and white squirrels, and the sweet sight of a sleeping baby.