There are certain unspoken courtesies in living in rural upstate New York that I was slow to cotton on to, having lived in cities and suburbs where courtesies and few and anonymity is always the first rule. One waves while passing another car or someone walking along the roadside (of course, on most days I see a handful of such folk, I am often the only person on any given road no matter the time of day). One makes eye contact and engages in conversation whether at the gas station, the grocery store, or getting a cup of coffee at the convenience store (which are few and far between, anyway). Everyone from the plumber to the nice gentleman who plows large quantities of snow off our driveways and our dirt road will stop first to chat and then to work (unheard of in the city – time is money, your money, so it’s best they get to work right away).
At first, I rolled my eyes when I learned of the above, I thought the “rules” silly, a waste of time, intrusive. I’ve come to value them, however, to see how such small courtesies help ease the day. Early this week, for example, the grocery clerk took note of the artichokes I was purchasing, which reminded her of the way her Italian grandmother would prepare them every spring. Her story and the images it conjured stayed with me and gave me pleasure all day. While driving to a farm in Vermont, my source for cheese and the best sweet potatoes anywhere, I waved at a gentleman determinedly pushing his rollator up the road; while driving back home I saw him again, and gave me a smile and a thumbs up, implicit for: I’m okay and you stay well, too.
These small and simple interactions and gestures, much to my citified surprise, have touched me; they’ve become necessary.
Small Kindnesses by Danusha Laméris
I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”