Social Isolation and Kindness

Hi, how are you?

The standard way of saying hello as we pass by an acquaintance.

The expected response is, “Fine thanks, how are you?”

My youngest used to quote Aladdin from the movie of the same name, the cartoon nineties version. She mimicked the sing song voice used by the cartoon character. “Hiii, HOW ya doin’? MY name’s Al.” She wasn’t looking for an honest answer any more than most of us are when we greet people with a “How are you?”

It was a cute recitation from my three-year-old. My own question should carry more substance. When my life is noisy and rushed, I forget that.

I remember a time many years ago when I asked that question of a coworker who had been diagnosed with Lupus. She answered with the expected response and kept walking, but I stopped her and told her that I really wanted to know how she was doing and what she was feeling. It was obvious that she wasn’t accustomed to that level of concern.

She began sharing some of the anxiety, burdens, and pain that came with her recent diagnosis. At the end of our conversation, she looked me in the eye and thanked me for caring enough to ask for a real answer. “Most people don’t want to hear it.”

I pass many people I know when I walk in my subdivision. Because I taught just blocks from my home, I recognize faces from years ago, people I have not seen since their child left elementary school over the last twenty-five years. While I don’t often remember the name of the parent or guardian, I do usually remember the name of the student. That sometimes surprises parents, especially when I throw in little details or anecdotes I recall.

Last week, as I walked, a van passed me. The driver was a woman I have seen in her driveway as I travel the subdivision.  I had not spoken to her in years. She went out of her way to turn around to pull up beside me on the road. She rolled down her window and began with, “You probably don’t remember me but you taught my grandson in kindergarten many years ago.”

I think I surprised her by asking about her grandson by name and even about his brother, whom I never taught. We had a nice conversation as I caught up with the good and the sad in her life. The young man I taught now has a couple children of his own. It meant a lot to me that this woman drove out of her way to come back and say hello, and also that she trusted me with a sad story about his brother’s addictions.

Over the last six weeks, I have run into to at least four other families I know from school. Two of the young men I taught are high school seniors this year. Their yards display signs to honor their senior year. My heart is heavy for them and all seniors. But they and their families are healthy.

It’s been nice to reconnect briefly with people who have taken the time to stop and say hello.

When they go out of the way, like the woman in the van, I really appreciate the caring thoughtfulness.

Kindness goes a long way in today’s environment. Or any time.

How are YOU doing?

2 thoughts on “Social Isolation and Kindness

  1. It might be the runner in me that is so used to saying “Hi!” to those I pass on my journeys, but I am doing the same. Sadly, only a little more than half of the people we pass on a walk acknowledge my greeting. That is great that you remember so many people and so much detail about them! That must really make them feel special. I’m horrible at remembering names or faces – I would not be very good at that. I can see that is something definitely worth working on!

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  2. I’m feeling bad for the high school seniors too. And the college students. Those five years might be the most important years in a person’s life for making memories, friends and life decisions. Now they’re stuck at home with their parents, life on hold, waiting for if/when this might end.

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