One of the ways we try to connect with Northampton, especially from a spiritual perspective is by prayerwalking. I've mentioned this before on Facebook and here.
In our walking with praying, we prefer the early morning when we and the day are fresh. The city is waking up, but there is still a feel of peace and calm. Most the time, though, we encounter other people: joggers, walkers, dog-strollers, Pedal People, cops, people getting coffee and going to work, sanitation workers, young mothers with strollers, and homeless folks. There isn't a throng of them, but they're out with us.
Over the last few months we've made it a point to say "Good Morning" to folks walking past us from the other direction or sitting near us as we walk by. Not everyone "telegraphs" they are ready for a "Good Morning," so we're sensitive, but if we err, we err on the side trying to brighten a day. We see the unadorned, cheerful little greeting as a blessing; that people we pass by would encounter good as they wend their way through their mornings. So many people's days are filled with anxiety, frustration, boredom, hurry-up and less than pleasant encounters with all sorts of other people. Greeting strangers with blessing feels worth doing for its own sake. Perhaps it will be the only pleasant words someone will hear said to them all day.
As we've done this, I've noticed we almost always get a reaction. For many, it is surprise. Perhaps they were lost in thought, or they're just not used to people on the street offering a greeting. It jolts them like: "Did you really say that to me?" For many, as well, the next reaction is a smile and a returned "Good Morning." It's pleasant and seems received in the manner it was intended. Although, I'll also admit a few folks respond with a flat affect as if they know the routine and need to be polite. There's no heart in it- almost like an autonomic reaction. That's OK. They got chance to practice their humanity.
Sometimes we get no response at all. The person looks resolutely ahead sending a clear message they are not interested one wit. That's OK too.
Today, however, I (Tricia was not with me for this leg of the morning's p-walk), got a response unlike any other to date. I'd just begun to head up Finn Street, and noticed to my left, a women in her mid-60's sitting on her porch. She was smoking and looking to be getting some air or just relaxing. As I walked close to her house, I made my greeting to her. She actually grimaced, and then slightly shook her head no. She then said, turning her head away from me, "You have no right to say that to me." She said something right after, but because I kept walking I couldn't make it out. Clearly, she felt deeply troubled to me, and it was more than annoyance. She was in pain somehow. Her life was hurting her because of death or betrayal or illness or loss or stress too much to bear. It was palpable, all in a just few seconds. It was almost as if my "Good Morning" was a kick to the stomach or adding insult to injury.
As I kept walking I was a little stunned by what I'd witnessed. Such a response had not happened on any of our walks and greetings. I also felt a surge of sadness and compassion for her. I didn't turn around and go back because I, in no way, wanted to cross her boundary. I wish I could've heard her story and offered help, comfort or encouragement. I prayed God's blessing and care over her and her family. It's all I could do.
As I thought about it further, her instantaneous and pained look and firm gesture of "no" revealed a depth of wounding which seemed to have crushed her life. If you could have seen her expression, you would have recognized she was not merely being cantankerous. It felt as if my words were more than she could take at that movement.
But it was what she said that stuck me most. What did she mean I had no right to say "Good Morning" to her? What was she associating me with? Granted, I was a stranger initiating an exchange she'd not invited, but why did she see it as so offensive? I touched a raw nerve having never meant to and she felt I'd exercised a right I'd not been given. As I said, it made me sad she was offended by me. I meant no harm; I meant good.
More than likely I'll not see her again. I will go back to Finn Street, however. I 'd love the chance to apologize to her, but I'll be very sensitive to walk by if she at all signals to be left alone.
You just never know what a prayerwalk and offering "Good Mornings" will surface.