Sunday’s were ‘let’s go for a drive’ day when I was a kid. We’d pile into the Galaxy 500; sometimes with a picnic but never without dad’s pistol so he could shoot potguts while we girls stuck our fingers in our ears and squinched our eyes shut.
On these rides through the
back roads and canyons of Utah I watched my dad lift his forefinger from the steering wheel as a car approached from the opposite direction while the driver in the other car would also lift a forefinger or nod as we passed. There was eye contact and a simple gesture of acknowledgement, recognition, and respect.
The other day, driving through my neighborhood, which is about the size of a small village in Slovakia … I waved at someone I passed who was walking down the sidewalk and only received a stare in return. I nodded as I passed a car where the driver and I had eye contact and from which the other driver’s eyes quickly flicked away offering no acknowledgement. This kind of bugged me (slightly paranoid I am) so after another couple of attempts at the forefinger wave with no response I started a non-scientific test; I waved, forefinger lifted, or head nodded everywhere I went. Around Boise at least in the neighborhood I get maybe 1 or 2 acknowledgements out of 10. On the freeway, none. In Costco parking lot … none. In a traffic jam with cars packed side by side … none… everyone stares straight ahead.
Though results in the city seem dismal I am happy to report that the forefinger wave is alive and well in small town Idaho. At least towns with slow speed limits … whether anyone knows you or not. I watched it happen on two lane winding blacktop roads, on dusty 2 tracks in the desert and on a switch back crawling slowly up a mountain side.
Isn’t there something human and reassuring about being acknowledged … “yes I see you”. Just a little wave or nod of the head initiates immediately an inner response to being recognized as a co-inhabitant of this earth. Something so small can awaken a warmth of spirit ; a forefinger lifted from a steering wheel and a bit of eye contact … there is a sense of community, a recognition that I made a connection beyond self … someone ‘saw’ me.
These are my very un-scientific conclusions … there seem to be four basic responses when human to human eye contact is made while encased in the metal shield of a motor vehicle. The forefinger lift or the head nod in passing, a casual wave, the stare (the most common facial expressions are confusion, irritation, incredulity, or contempt), and then there is the extended middle finger (they may not have learned the art of the forefinger wave).
Wandering Questions … No Answers Yet.
What is it about being wrapped in metal and glass that reduces our humanness … reduces our ability or desire to acknowledge our or someone else’s humanity? Is the inability to acknowledge or initiate interaction fear of connection? I believe it’s a short street from an ability to acknowledge someone’s existence to self absorption and narcissism. How many degrees of separation is there from respect to disdain … civility to anarchy … from faith in humanity and what makes us the same to fear of what makes us different?
It’s a small thing, that forefinger wave, it’s a way to reawaken the community of humanity; one eye contact at a time. So I’m choosing faith in what makes us the same … love, laughter, planting, driving, walking and creating. I’m going to keep on waving, head nodding, and lifting that forefinger from the steering wheel …
… whether I know you or not.