Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Love your coat!

"Love your coat," I said to the stranger who seemed to have a chip on her shoulder.

She looked up from her newly lit cigarette, "Oh! Thank you," she said looking down at her coat. She smiled.

I need to make a confession. I seem to do this a lot. I really didn't like the coat. It had bright orange and yellow stick figures on it. They might have been smoking as well from what I could tell.

This isn't unusual for me. I love to change the mood of strangers with a compliment, a smile. I've even hugged strangers who for some reason tell me their life stories in a matter of minutes. It's like a game show. 'How much can you tell in 60 seconds.' I don't mind. If it helps, I'm there.

But as I sat in the waiting room, looking at all the strangers around me, I was suddenly saddened. As a child I grew up in a small community. A trip to town meant passing people we knew and those we did not. It didn't matter, we said 'hello' to all of them once in awhile standing for a long conversation. Over the years, I continued to greet people. It made my day even if it didn't theirs. Those bits of recognition were little gifts wrapped up in smiles.

I am more cautious now. A woman alone must be careful. We have learned when and when not to make eye contact and when to blend with our surroundings. We have learned not to smile or greet just anyone. We have learned to stay in lit areas and always with a companion. We have learned to eat at a restaurant and walk behind a grocery cart holding on to our purses. We have learned to protect our children by keeping them informed. We watch the news to see what dangers are in our neighborhoods. We are cautious in opening emails and postings online. We have learned to be afraid and to hide it.

I refuse to hide from my world. I refuse to let the evil in our world dictate where I go and who I am. The part of me who walked down a small town street greeting those I passed is still with me. I refuse to let the negative win.

BTW, you look great today.

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