In our town, there’s a “Walking Man.” He’s a tall, slender, older gentleman who, well, walks. Everywhere.
For years, we’ve seen him all over the city, walking briskly, meandering, or strolling, never seeming to take the same route. Or maybe he does have a route, and we’re the ones with no pattern to our travels. Main roads, side streets, residential areas. Everywhere.
Hot, cold, rain, snow, wind, humidity. The man walks.
And he waves. He waves at Every. Single. Car.
Oncoming, from behind, at intersections. Doesn’t matter. Each motorist is gifted this man’s greeting.
If the car is coming from behind him, he raises one long arm in the air, and that’s that.
If the car is coming toward him, he does the same, but with a little more “oomph.”
If the driver makes eye contact with him and waves back (and believe me, I always try to make eye contact with this man and wave back), he’ll throw both arms to the sky and shake those babies in glorious salutations. And his grin… it’s contagious.
It’s the kind of smile that makes you think he left his home base to journey that particular road at that particular time to find you out driving and make your day a little brighter. Like he and his impossibly long arms did this on purpose.
The hubs and I were out early a few days ago and saw him. It was cold and damp. He was wearing layers and a bright orange safety vest. We were coming up from behind. I rolled the window down, slowed and waved at him out the window. In the rearview mirror, we were rewarded with a double-arm wave, shining eyes, and the most impossibly happy smile.
Then we smiled.
And then I realized those muscles — my smile muscles — haven’t seen much activity of late. I’m talking about those muscles that operate of their own accord with no conscious effort. The “genuine” smile muscles. Oh, I’ve done a lot of fake smiling and polite smiling. Those muscles are different. But the “genuine” ones seem to operate a little deeper and without the need for fake or polite influence.
Little kids exercise their genuine smile muscles every day unencumbered and without hesitation. They don’t need a reminder to be happy. Happy just happens. Ever hear a baby belly laugh at a pet? It’s one of the sweetest sounds on the planet. Ever watch a couple of three-year-olds crack up at a joke that no one but the two of them understand? Ever witness a group of kids get the “giggles,” and no one can stop laughing long enough to hear some grumpy adult boss them into the next task?
The hubs and I have had a list of troubles as long our arms this year. Our friends and family have, as well — many of them facing things that would crush even the most robust of souls. The world feels heavy. Happy took a back seat to survival. Typically, November prompts Facebook folks to list one thing per day for the month to be thankful for. In years past, my feed was filled with these posts.
Only one person that I know of did this for the whole month. I didn’t see anyone else even attempt it.
The world is heavy. Homes are heavy. The holidays are heavy for some. Happy won’t just happen. We’ll need reminding.
But Walking Man reminds me I can wave. I can smile. I can shake off those heavy loads for a few seconds. A few minutes. Some hours. An afternoon. And be happy on purpose.
Do something I love.
With someone I love.
Or be happy alone with a fuzzy blanket and a cat in a peaceful house.
Or be happy on purpose with Little Miss Muse dancing on the desk, ideas flying from her glittered wand, the smell of grape bubblegum filling the space around my laptop…
And I can do it the next day, and the next.
Hot, cold, rain, snow, wind, humidity… Okay. Maybe not in the humidity. Humidity takes my “genuine” grump muscles through a thorough workout.
But all the other temps and precipitations, I can, by gosh, by golly.
The encounter with the Walking Man reminds me I don’t have to simply survive or cope or get through.
The encounter with the Walking Man reminds me how good it feels to let those genuine happy muscles stretch.
The encounter with the Walking Man reminds me I know how to roll down the window. Slow down. Stick my arm outside. And wave. Small, simple actions, compounding on one another to bring about a happy response for more than just myself.
Happiness and smiles, indeed, are completely contagious.
So with the new year creeping up on us, with all of its heaviness or happiness and everything it’ll bring in between those extremes, remember to find those happy-on-purpose moments. Roll your window down. Slow your pace.
Shake off the arm’s length worth of woes, wave to the heavens...