I DON’T KNOW a stranger. Call it a hazard of my job as a writer, but I genuinely enjoy meeting people, and it is even better if I can turn them into friends. There’s a great quote by Maya Angelou that reminds us of the importance of the effect we have on each other.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
So whether I make a friend or not, I always hope to leave people better than I found them. This quote always leaves me thinking of an unusual but special friendship with a neighbor of mine.
Mr. Franklin was an older man who lived down the street. Not knowing his last name and wanting to show respect since he was my elder, I added the title of “Mr.” I’d pass him every morning while driving to work. He’d be sitting outside reading, and I’d wave at him. At first, he’d wave at me sometimes, and sometimes he wouldn’t. To be honest, it frustrated me. It became a mission of mine to get him to wave each time I passed.
One day he was walking to his mailbox, and I was driving by. I stopped beside his mailbox, rolled down my window, and stuck out my hand. I told him that we might as well know each other’s names if we were going to wave at each other. He laughed in agreement, and from that day on, I didn’t have a problem with him waving at me. I’d stop my car sometimes, and we’d talk. If we hadn’t seen each other in a few days, we’d make sure to catch up the next time we saw each other.
Over time, I don’t know who seemed to get more enjoyment from our waving to each other. It was probably me because I had worked so hard to get him to wave in the first place.
About six months after we began our friendship, I hadn’t seen him for a few weeks. I didn’t think too much of it, as I knew he had visited family out of town in the past, and I figured that was the cause of his absence. One of his neighbors flagged me down one evening to tell me that Mr. Franklin had passed away. He wanted me to know, because he knew we were what he called “waving buddies.”
All I could think of was what a terrible loss for the world to lose someone like Mr. Franklin. He wasn’t perfect, but he showed kindness where he could, and that counted. I know for me, he made so many of my crazy mornings brighter, and I hope I did the same for him.
I never talked politics with Mr. Franklin. I didn’t know his religious preference, and I didn’t care. We were just two people in the crazy world trying to show each other a little kindness.
It didn’t cost us anything. We didn’t have to change our beliefs, politics, or opinions to show each other some kindness.
Now, years later, I still think of him. Those few moments of kindness left a mark on me that I will carry for the rest of my life. He indeed left me better than he found me. GN