, Newburyport, MA


June 16, 2014

Hello, am I bothering you?

The suggestion caught me by surprise.

“When you pass kids on the street,” said Youth Services Director Andrea Egmont at a community awards ceremony, “say hello.”

As a parent, a grandparent and a retired high school teacher of 35 years, I’m aware of the youthful eyeroll at connecting with adults.

“They might think you’re a little weird,” she continued, “but saying hello acknowledges them as individuals.”

This got me to thinking — this time in connection with crossing paths with other adults, especially women.

I am a daily walker. My route takes me along country roads and though Maudslay State Park. I often pass other walkers or joggers coming from the opposite direction. My tendency is to make eye contact, to nod and to say hello.

Some reciprocate in that very same sequence, but others stare straight ahead, oblivious to or deliberately avoiding any interaction. Why is that?

In one instance, I know the answer. The St. John the Evangelist center across the Artichoke River in West Newbury often holds silent retreats on weekends, and on those occasions I often cross paths with participants. I can tell that such a person is caught in a dilemma — to say hello and break the vow or to say nothing and appear rude. Usually the compromise is to merely nod in my direction.

Others, I suppose, are preoccupied in thought. Some are deep into whatever is coming out of their earphones. For some it may be a matter of personality. For years I have passed a jogger who stares straight ahead, without a sideward glance or acknowledgment, seemingly irritated by my mere presence. For some it may be a feeling of superiority or, the opposite, inferiority. For some it may be suspicion or fear, especially in women.

I am a big person — 6-foot-5 (well, maybe shrinking a little) and well over 200 pounds. Am I perceived as a threat? Would saying hello put the other person in jeopardy?

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