Pin It When I moved to Utah four years ago, it took me about a year to really let my guard down. People I didn't know would wave to me as we drove through the neighborhood and I had no idea what to do in response. After all, I didn't KNOW them. How could I just wave? INSANITY.
In Vegas, you don't wave to strangers on the street. In Vegas, you don't make eye contact with store clerks. In Vegas, you go about your business, are polite but distant with strangers and neighbors, and interact primarily with your family and friends.
I'm not sure if you notice it if you've lived here your whole life. You can't really understand that it isn't like that everywhere, that it isn't normal not to acknowledge a neighbor in the front yard a few houses down, or to pretend like you can't hear your neighbors out in their yard on the other side of the six foot cinder block wall. When someone points it out to you, you may not even really understand what they mean, because it's something you've always taken for granted. It's a normal distance - an unfriendliness borne not of meanness but of culture.
There are people of course, who are friendly everywhere they go, no matter where they live, no matter how other people react. They are the people who surprise you by engaging you at the grocery store, at the post office, at the park. And you may enjoy the interaction, but a part of you is saying, "That was odd. She just jumped right in and started talking to me. Wasn't that odd?"
I had to go to the bank yesterday to talk to them about a Very Important check they'd slapped a two-day hold on. It was destined for Important Things, and I desperately needed them to release the funds.
At the bank, I talked to the teller, who looked bored as she told me that actually, it was a NINE day hold.
It took me a second to process that. "What? Nine - nine days, but that's - I can't - NINE?!"
She nodded, a tired expression on her face. I'm sure she dealt with this kind of thing all the time. I'm sure she was used to people freaking out about money, taking their financial stress out on her when there was nothing she could really do about it.
"Can I talk to your manager?" I asked her quietly.
She waved her manager over and I explained as politely as I could that I could wait two days, but not nine, that in nine days, Very Bad Things would happen, and please, was there anything she could do?
The manager didn't look at me as I spoke. She kept her eyes focused on the screen, tapping the keys as she reviewed our account status. I could tell I wasn't an actual person to her, just a transaction, an interruption in her workflow. She wasn't rude or impolite, but she was detached and curt. After a minute, she shook her head. "There's nothing we can do. Your account is too new, and its an out-of-state check. It'll be released on the 22nd." She tapped another key.
The 22nd. I couldn't help it, tears welled up in my eyes.
Even though we are mostly back on our feet, with good jobs and good income, we've had to pay for so many things lately - security deposits and attorney's fees and licenses, not to mention the occasional bag of groceries, and the money seems to fly out the door faster than we can earn it. But this check - THIS was supposed to be the one that gave us breathing room.
I felt overwhelmed, pushed past my capacity to deal with everything that had happened in the last year. I could handle the bankruptcy, I could handle losing our business, but this one little check was going to push me right over the edge and into a nervous breakdown, I could feel it.
She finally looked over at me, and was obviously startled at my expression and the tears in my eyes.
"Please, isn't there anything you can do?" I said with as much dignity as I could muster, given the way my nose was running.
She stared back at me for a second and her eyes softened. "Let me see." She walked over to another computer and started typing.
I waited nervously, watching as Abby and Carter charmed the loan officer into giving them suckers. The teller really looked at me now, and made sympathetic small talk.
A few minutes later, the manager returned. "I was able to release the funds - all of them." She smiled at me, a real, honest to goodness up-to-the-eyes warm smile, as though I was a friend and not just some random stranger, and I suddenly wanted to bake her cookies.
I tried to smile at her through my tears. "Thank you so much. Thank you. You have no idea - this really - I really appreciate this..." I showered grateful thanks on her, on the teller, on the loan officer.
"No problem," she said, and she shook my hand. She looked genuinely happy to have been able to help.
I took Abby's hand, took Carter's hand, and we walked out of the bank. I was smiling from ear to ear (groceries! gas! wheeeee!), and not just because of the money.
I know it wasn't a big thing. It wouldn't even qualify as a Hallmark moment. A bank manager helped me out, overrode policy - big whoop-de-doo. But the thing is - for a minute she really SAW me.
It meant something to me.
We forget to really LOOK at the people around us. We get so cynical. We learn too many hard lessons about people, and we shut out everyone but those who are closest to us. We save our mental and emotional energy for the people we love, and pretend that the other people we deal with (the checker we fail to acknowledge at the grocery store, the lady we cut off in traffic, the crossing guard we ignore) aren't really REAL people, they're just obstacles in our day.
I'm not saying we should talk to every stranger who crosses our path; but we can acknowledge them, can't we? Acknowledge that we see them, and acknowledge our shared humanity? Smile at someone? Nod politely as we pass each other?
Simple things. Baby steps. That's how it starts, right?
Because as it turns out - that whole Love Thy Neighbor thing? Has its merits.