Project Kindness (Day 17)

Today I kept my wallet shut, much to my husband’s relief I’m sure. (Oh, I did buy a couple of kids’ outfits at a consignment sale, but that was it. Honest.) Speaking of my husband, he’s become a blog widower, so we made a date to eat ice cream and catch up on Southland tonight. I promised to keep my time in front of the laptop short, so here it goes.

The ColonnadeInstead of donating, sponsoring, or actually paying anything forward today, I decided to practice something from my past. It’s been longer than I care to admit since I graduated from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia some (cough,cough)-teen years ago. The seasons I spent at that oasis in the Blue Ridge Mountains were among my favorites. Every time I drive up I-81 and see the sloping green hills with the stark white farmhouses, I feel as if part of me is coming home. I made friends at W&L who have stuck with me through thick and thin. I grew up in those mountains, learning more about my values, my politics, and my heart than I could have imagined upon getting that acceptance letter so many years ago. If I had to come of age all over again, I would never choose a different place to do so. As all W&L students, professors, and alumni know, one of the greatest traditions at my alma mater is the famous “Speaking Tradition”. Just as it sounds, all members of the community are encouraged to acknowledge one another as a gesture of, well, kindness. The following passage from the University’s Office of Admissions sums it up nicely.

“It’s really pretty simple. W&L tradition suggests you should say “hi” to people you pass around campus. It’s another manifestation of Lee’s insistence that civility should prevail in our community. Don’t worry, between classes and at other busy times you don’t have to say “hi” 150 times on your way from one place to another. But at other times, participating in the Speaking Tradition is one of the little things that makes W&L your home away from home.”

Isn’t that grand? Something so simple. We all did it and after a few days on campus, it seemed perfectly natural and became second nature. When I left school for breaks or summer vacation, I carried that tradition with me out of habit. Sometimes I could tell that the unexpected greeting caught folks off guard. Only then did I remember that not everyone carried on that way. What a shame. Since I entered the real world, I find that we all get awfully wrapped up inside our own heads sometimes. We have legitimate worries. We get lost in our thoughts regarding our health, our finances, the never-ending question “What’s for dinner, Mom?”. Sometimes we forget to be cordial, to acknowledge the human being right next to us who is similarly contemplating the details of his own complicated life. Wouldn’t it be a nice, if not brief, interruption to have someone look you in the eye, smile, and say hello as they pass by? Especially during this era of iPods, smart phones, and social media, a real-world connection is such a meaningful exchange. Today, this is what I endeavored to do. I brought the Speaking Tradition back to my little world. I made a special point to say hello to everyone I encountered. I didn’t go crazy, go out of my way, to make people notice me. In fact, I usually prefer to pass without attention. I simply acknowledged them with a friendly hello (sometimes just a nod of my head if someone was on the phone which is something we never encountered back in college!). It was easy and I have no idea why I ever let the tradition become anything other than a habit.

(P.S. As a bonus, I also made a double batch of chocolate chip cookies today and delivered half of them to my neighbor whose sweet tooth rivals the one of my oldest daughter. That is one heckuva sweet tooth.)

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