what makes one teenager look me straight in the eye, smile and say hello as I pass him on the sidewalk, and another avert their eyes, make themselves busy, and pass on by without acknowledgement?
I am fascinated by this phenomenon. Is it any one thing, or many different issues that cause a person, specifically here, a teenager or young adult, to act as if I do not even exist? That there is not another person sharing the sidewalk and passing on their left….
I find myself trying to remember back to my own youth. Taking a memory walk to my high school days to see if the person I was, the teenager I lived in, turned to say hello with a smile and genuine attention, or was more apt to turn away a bit, offer a closed shoulder rather than an open heart….
I’ve actually been contemplating this for a few weeks now and can not bring myself to recall the minutia of my days to discern which sidewalk passing teenager I was. I can not remember which way I turned; inward or outward. I can recall my state of mind though; the feeling of my sense of self and what my aspirations were at that age. And to this, I can guess at which teenager I was in the world.
I can remember wanting to be loved. Trying to be loved. It’s not that I wasn’t, but that the sense of myself was that I was lacking in it. That I had to earn more love; find more love; even justify, perhaps, love in my life.
I kissed my first boyfriend because my friends told me he wouldn’t be my boyfriend if I didn’t. I tried out for cheerleading because I had friends in ‘that group’ and I wanted to be accepted and loved by the ‘in’ crowd that they were. (I had hideous stage fright at this point in my life, a byproduct of my also hideous low self esteem and flopped the routine that a generous spirit had ingrained into my limbs for the past month.)
I allowed a ‘friend’ to cut my hair freshman year because I wanted so much to have her like me; to call me a friend and let me join her among her group. (I ended up looking like a poodle. I only this year have come to know what became of her as she found me on facebook….)
Is it this way for all youth? This fleeting? This base and most external of connections made and called friendships? I believe noone could truly be my friend because they could never truly know me; I did not know myself-and could hardly begin to share what was unknown.
Because of these memories, this sense of my teenage self, I believe I was one to turn away and acknowlege nothing more than with a small sidestep the presence of another passing by. I do not feel within me for that former self enough courage, tenacity and self-worth to have stood strong and assured. To have passed with an honest focused acknowledgement of the human being sharing the same space for even this brief moment. I didn’t have the guts. I didn’t have the strength. I didn’t stand on my own solid ground therefore could not extend to others the grace I had not found myself.
So thank God for the smallest of mercies. Thank God for 43 years; that these years have allowed for the time and patience and perseverence to keep walking and passing and feeling the shared smile of a passer by….
Until I begin to not only feel the smile, but also acknowledge, on occassion, one. To feel them begin to fill my excavated self doubt-filled pit, to even take the step to try my hand at returning one or two.
So perhaps all those bodies I passed weren’t there for me to participate in with a shared greeting. Maybe they were all there only to hand me something. Something that would become a bit of me. Maybe they were all passing to my left so as to leave behind a bit of themselves in this path-crossing-To let flow, from them to me, a miniscule particle of faith, hope and grace that would begin to build. To pile up in the vacancy of my soul. To backfill the excavated trench of my self esteem slowly, surely, bringing me to a leveling. Filling me up-almost imperceptively-over the days and weeks and months of passing. Graciously giving to me, in that split-second-shared smile-of-human-compassion, more of myself.
Taking me finally, to an overflowing.
I believe this. To each of the dozens, no-hundreds, of gracious bodies that have passed me over my years, through short sprints to the busstop in middle school, from the car to front door of the job in high school, to my groggy college brain walking to campus in my young adult years. To each and every one of these unknown, long forgotten faces, I give thanks. Your merciful acknowledgement of the questioning, seeking, floudering self hurrying past is a testimony to my current self. The self that now can and does look directly into the eye of the passing sixteen year old-wafting cologne and hairspray-fresh acne and an overstuffed backpack-and smiles a gracious compassionate knowing glance.
I get it. I understand why you don’t acknowledge my passing by sometimes. I can connect to the why of your self-effacing timidity. Just don’t settle for staying there; don’t stop in the self-doubt or set up shop in the timid. Let each passing smile and fleeting acknowledgement build and back fill your pit of self doubt and begin to fortify your boundries. Let each one count for what it is; wisdom to grow you into who you are meant to be. Let it be you. Let it be yours. in love. trish