To Wave or Not to Wave

by Helene Louise  

I have been running on and off for more than three decades. (Or jogging, as we used to call it back in the 1980’s when I started…) That’s a really long time to have done any one activity with any kind of consistency. Over all those years, projects, priorities and people have come and gone in my life but my love for putting on my running shoes and going for a run remains unchanged. I like the solitude. I like the rhythm of my feet on the pavement. I like the way it makes me conscious of the changing seasons—from the first leaves on the ground that I wouldn’t otherwise notice, to the first crocuses of spring like I saw this past weekend even though it snowed again later in the week. And, I like the feeling of strength that running gives me, as I push myself through the discomfort of the day to accomplish what I’ve set out to do.

And, although it’s not essential to my running happiness, I really like those brief moments when I pass another runner and we ever-so-briefly acknowledge one another with a quick wave or a little nod. Maybe it’s silly but when that happens, I feel a small surge of extra motivation, a sense of added strength that comes from feeling like at that moment, we share an understanding of how hard we’re both working to keep going, even as we continue off in opposite directions, never to see one another again. That’s especially true on the dark, cloudy days when motivation is harder to come by and even the slightest sense of a shared experience feels like kindness.

Having said that, I don’t know if it’s my neighbourhood or the changing times but I have noticed fewer and fewer people waving back as the years go by. Out of habit, I’m still lifting my hand, ready to acknowledge a fellow runner as I run past them (or even a walker or someone with a stroller…) but almost everyone runs right past me, looking straight ahead as if I simply wasn’t there. Each time that happens, I feel the same waykind of like when you meet someone and you smile and extend your hand to shake theirs but for some reason, they don't take it so you’re just left standing there, awkwardly, with your hand outstretched to no one in particular, feeling rather foolish.

So, I've tried to hold back my impulse to acknowledge fellow runners as we pass one another but it feels strange to run past someone as if they weren’t there, especially when I’ve been aware of them running towards me for some time before we finally pass one another. And now and again, there is actually someone who, in that brief moment, seems so genuinely delighted by my gesture that their momentary look of happiness makes up for all the times my waves go unanswered. Not to mention, how encouraged I feel when, on the now very rarest of occasions, someone waves before me…!

When I think of the darkest periods of my life, like when my daughter was first diagnosed as having suffered a stroke, or the countless times I’ve faced something that requires more effort than I think I have, an unexpected smile from a cashier at the grocery store, a random kind word from a receptionist, or any remotely positive acknowledgement, wave, nod or otherwise, from anyone under any circumstances, can make a world of difference to me in that moment. Just like with running, on the dark, cloudy days, when motivation is so hard to come by, even the slightest sense of a shared experience can feel like kindness.

So, I think I’m going to keep waving. In any case, I’ll still be running around the neighbourhood, enjoying the solitude, the rhythm of my feet on the pavement and the changing seasons, so why not, just in case…?

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