People are sometimes hard to get to know. I remember this one particular doctor who remained an intimidating figure even though I’d known him for quite a while. He was a big man who always held a big cigar tightly clamped between his lips. And most people, especially young people like me, would travel in a different direction when he was headed their way. He was gruff, and he rarely smiled. But I knew that since he had a daughter close to my age he must have had a soft side. Certainly, he couldn’t be as mean as he looked. I was sure that he loved his daughter and was kind to her. I wanted to find that kindness. So I committed myself to getting to know this man, at least well enough to say “hello” and get a “hello” in return.
I decided that every time I saw him at a distance, I would make my way toward him so as to make sure we’d meet meet up. Passing by, I would look him in the eye, smile and say, “Hi, Doctor. How are you doing? Did you play golf today?”
Now, when I first started this practice, he mumbled an answer. His lips would release that cigar just enough to give a curt response: “Yea, I played.” And without slowing down a bit, he’d walk on by. “Hope you played well,” I’d say after he had already passed me. “Yep,” he’d mumble.
Every time that I saw the Doctor I’d make an effort to issue a short “hello” and maybe one comment or question to follow. After a while, he began to soften. Maybe he realized that I was a nice enough guy and that I wasn’t going to impose on him or frustrate his patterns or ways. I was always careful to make my comments brief, figuring that a man like the Doctor might even have a general mistrust for people who were too nice. I made sure that my questions were never prying or reaching — short comments only.
One day I saw him walking down the hall toward me. And as normal, I planned to say hello and be on my way. Yet before I spoke I saw something in the Doctor that I’d never seen before: a smile appearing on his face as he removed that long cigar from his lips. “Hello, Levi, how are you doing?” he asked. “Wow!” I thought. “I’d finally broken through.” And from that point on, our relationship was very cordial. I liked the Doctor, and I think he liked me, too.
I always made sure, however, to never appear as though I was taking advantage of his openness toward me. I still felt that there must have been something in his personality that he wanted to protect, something private. So as always, I kept my comments short, unless of course, he wanted to talk. And in that case, I was happy to converse with him as long as he wanted. It thought it was neat to find in this intimidating figure a spirit that was much like mine.
Day 28 Guide
Accessibility works both ways. I have to remind myself of that quite often, being careful not to close myself off to the people who might appear to be inaccessible. It’s so easy to remain distant, isn’t it? But I think it’s important to fight that tendency, especially in this cultural time of self-centered independence. I think we sometimes feel like we don’t need each other. And yet in so many ways we are needy people.
Today, smile at those who pass by, and try your best to be friendly and open. You never know who might become your friend.
© 2005, Levi Hill