Once upon a time, when I was not yet a teen, my family moved from the city to a new subdivision in a small fishing village. The village was quite insular and the locals didn’t take kindly to outsiders, even those who had just come from 20 miles away. But among the insular villagers were two teenage boys – identical twins – who had been adopted by an older couple in the village. Like us, the twins were “outsiders”, and maybe for that reason they had taken on the role of the village’s unofficial good-will ambassadors. Their job was to smile and wave at every car that drove by, whether or not they knew the car’s occupants.
We quickly learned that our job was to smile and wave back.
Down the ages, I can still see those two boys waving.
Paradoxically a greeting and a farewell, waving is the universal gesture for both hello and good-bye. We usually reserve our waves for people we know, but sometimes we spread them around to strangers, like candy flung from a parade float.
I was taught, as a child, to wave at trains and departing ships, whether or not I knew anyone on them. I still do it. Yes, I’m that random person standing on the overpass or the dock, waving and smiling my fool head off. That’s me; guilty as charged. Sometimes someone smiles and waves back at me, and for a second we connect without touching or even knowing each other.
I mention the waving thing because, as some of you may know, I’m currently living on a former farm in rural Nova Scotia. It has a 100-foot driveway that gets professionally plowed when it snows, but the plow driver doesn’t have sufficiently delicate equipment to plow out the mailbox at the end of the driveway. I have to clear that myself with a shovel, or the mailman won’t deliver the mail.
We got a lot of snow this winter, so I’ve been spending a lot of time at the end of the driveway fussing over the mailbox. While I’m down there, I’ve taken to waving at passing vehicles. I’m not sure how that started; maybe the drivers were waving at me first, like people in the country tend to do, but it’s now developed into a full-blown wave-a-thon. My initial shy wave-like-the-queen tight little hand quiver has blossomed into a NASCAR start-and-finish-line full-body shout-out, which rewards me not only with smiles and waves in return, but also the occasional honk.
I know none of these people who drive by, and none of them know me. And yet there we are, smiling and waving at each other like the best of friends. And for the briefest of seconds, we are.
I’m not sure what kind of biochemical reaction occurs when strangers wave to each other. Maybe on a scale of 1 to 10, it spikes briefly at 7 or higher on the pleasure scale, but there’s definitely a spike. Otherwise people wouldn’t do it. There’s probably also an electromagnetic connection, with the energy from the connecting bodies interacting through invisible waves. Of course, I’m only making this up (I’m not a science nerd), but yet I’m not entirely unconvinced that the biochemical response produced by the physical waving and smiling induces electromagnetic waves that literally reach out and invisibly touch each other. I’m not unconvinced that that is actually what is going on when I’m waving my fool arm off to strangers and they wave back.
Waving is a natural booster. (No needles required!)
When Jesus healed people’s illnesses, he reached out and touched them. Sometimes the touching was hands-on, and sometimes it was done from a distance, but it always involved the gesture of reaching out – the people who wanted healing reached out to Jesus, and Jesus responded by reaching out to them. The reaching out was a form of stylized waving, or is waving a form of stylized reaching out? I’m not sure which way it goes. It sounds like a conundrum along the lines of what-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg? And like a conundrum, it’s not really meant to be solved, just mulled over.
I learned to wave at strangers long before I was born-again. It was handed down to me from my older relatives, like my wavy hair was handed down. It was inescapable. I can imagine my older relatives had learned to wave from their older relatives, just like all the strangers who wave at me likely learned to wave from their older relatives. Down the ages, we reach out in waves and briefly connect in waves, even just for a millisecond.
Sometimes that’s all it takes to heal someone’s day.