Feb 12, 2013

'Say Hi to your neighbors week' in Waltham, MA.

    At the train station this morning, 3 ft high snow banks narrowed the parking lot drive-through lane to barely a car's width. Thank you, blizzard Nemo. Traffic flow had slowed to molasses. I made it in eventually and was working my car back and forth in the few inches available for maneuvering to squeeze into the last, tight parking spot as my train pulled in and then out (without me). Already irate from a rebellious 6 yr old's early morning tantrum, I let fly a few of the choiciest in the modest confines of my vehicle.
     Prepped to cool my heels and temper inside my frigid car (what, me idle?) for 20 mins until the next train to Boston. Lady to my left, who had no such compunctions, comfortably belched exhaust while putting on her face in the rear-view mirror. Man on the right blasted music with the engine running and a window half open to let out his cigarette smoke. One of those 'Why do I even bother?' moments flashed briefly through my mind.
     Then a dimly heard voice from behind the car caught my attention, saying 'Hi! Would you like some coffee?' . In my rear-view mirror, the bundled up commuter being addressed shook a wordless 'no' and scurried off as fast as the ice and slush would let her. She hadn't even made eye contact with the coffee-bearer. I watched to see what would follow and saw this gentleman (whom I later stalked for a pic):

He moved amongst commuters until his coffee stockpile was exhausted. Then he headed back to this temporary coffee station that I hadn't even noticed before. It was positioned strategically at the bus stop adjoining the Waltham commuter train stop:

He reloaded and set off again, as did a few other young women. Armed with coffee, grins and a cheerful, easy 'Hi!' they doled out these pamphlets with minimal fuss:

I would have been emotionally levelled by the sobering joy of witnessing this kind of pure kindness had it not been that they had an agenda. But just check out their agenda was (excerpted from the back of the pamphlet from above):

 Mayor McCarthy has proclaimed February 9-16, 2013 as
Say Hi to Your Neighbors Week!
Our goal is 2,013 "Hi"s
Will you Say 'Hi' to your neighbors and help realize our goals?
              We believe that saying 'Hi' to our nieghbors:
        * Helps create a safer community
        * Breaks the isloation that people experiencing violence often feel
        * Helps us be more likely to look out for each other
Don't pass someone by
SAY Hi and ask them to pass it on!

It's a message from REACH Beyond Domestic Violence.
They were'nt even preachy about it. When a coffee recipient responded to the pamphlet with 'Thanks for the coffee! I will try not to be domestically violenced!' in an errant attempt at wit, the coffee-bearer continued to hand over creamer and sugar packs with a grin and nary a word about the seriousness of the issue.

Sobering joy: check.
Emotionally levelled: check

In this age where various forms of social media are so easily and successfully brought to bear on spreading messages, this kind of physical glad-handing probably bears less of a 'wow' factor and  more of a taint of being backward and inefficient. The most casual user of social networks knows that you can spread a message farther, wider and faster with a few jabs of your thumbs on a smart phone than with hours of canvassing. But what the iGadgets and cyber social networks miss is the value of personal contact. Victims of abuse fly under the radar for as long as they do because they lack the connections that might enable them to call out for help. I understand people suffering from depression face a similar debilitating sense of isolation that makes them feel that they are suffering alone, that no-one can 'get' it, that their pain in unimportant or shameful or a sign of weakness.

In these situations no number of smiley pictures in chain e-mails or 'like' tallys on FB can match the value of a smile exchanged in person. Because being there, means BEING THERE. It means that each of us are not suspended in a bubble facing joys and sorrows alike, alone. That there may just be help and comfort a simple word away. That even when you don't receive acknowledgement of a smile/nod/hello, you might have changed that person's day. Or life.

If you suspect that this might be even partially true, why not try saying 'Hi! Pass it on, will you?', walk away and see how it makes you feel?

Or contact these folks: www.reachma.org, allison@reachme.org

Oyon-isms (6):
Trying to say 'Grace' just like his little freind who came to dinner last night (whose family follows the practise, one we join out of respect when we visit them for dinner). She thanks the Lord for 'food, house and freinds. Amen.'
Oyon clasps his hands, squeezes his eyes shut and says
"I hope there is more good news in the news because the bad news is just bad. Um, what's that word you say at the end again, Mummum?"
Amen, kid.


  1. C, it's a sheer joy in reading your daily musings....love it and I think I am now leading the pack of your fan-herd....

    When we just moved to NY, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, we were trying to be busy to explore the new city. We walked from our 24/5th apartment to Union Sq. on 14th Street, in the midst of the crowded farmer's market and usual hawkers selling pins to elephants, a group of kids were holding up handmade posters that read "free-hugs". To our amusements we noticed few approached them for a hug and others like us were more curious about this campaign and few more passed by with unappreciative eyes rolling over....
    We did stop by them and found out about this unusual movement that started in London.

    Excerpts from their web-site
    "Sometimes, a hug is all what we need.

    Free hugs is a real life controversial story of Juan Mann, A man whos sole mission was to reach out and hug a stranger to brighten up their lives.

    In this age of social disconnectivity and lack of human contact, the effects of the Free Hugs campaign became phenomenal.

    As this symbol of human hope spread accross the city, police and officials ordered the Free Hugs campaign BANNED. What we then witness is the true spirit of humanity come together in what can only be described as awe inspiring.

    In the Spirit of the free hugs campaign, PASS THIS TO A FRIEND and HUG A STRANGER! After all, If you can reach just one person" .....

    .....it resonated so much with the "Say Hi to your Neighbor" campaign and with your writing that I had to share this with you... I am glad that there are also ways to overcome the disconnectivity of this connective world....

    My Mani, who raised me, used to tell me that you don't need to buy expensive gifts for your friends on their birthdays but on any regular day, just share a small portion of your lunch, or pick up her favorite author's book and take it to her when she is sick...that will bring the most joy....just like your "Uporer-Dida (Dida who used to live one floor above us in Calcutta) remembered to bring you a bowl of 'alu-posto' for you on Thursday....beacuse you loved it.....
    Love and Cheers, M

    1. M: I suspect the only 'fan herd' I have is in your imagination. But I thank you for it nonetheless. Your imagination is not a bad place to be. I've seen your photographs and read your musings. :-)
      I love your story of 'free hugs' in NY. Sad it ended. Wish we could be less cynical and suspicious of random acts of kindness. But I suppose our instincts for self-preservation cannot be faulted in a world where we are conditioned to see the bad news (and defense against it) instead of the good that lurks everywhere. Here's to the 'uporer dida' in all of us: we each have our own versions of alu-posto to bring to people even when we think we don't. Thanks for reading and commenting and encouraging me to go on with this. love - C
      PS: when you visit us (as promised), get Sho to make you his famous alu-bean-posto. It's wicked good.

  2. Replies
    1. Thx Sri. Glad you think so...and I'm referring to the community building rather than my post. :-)