At Your Service: April 16, 2008

 

Snowdrops have sprung up in the lawn.  Robins have begun their ritual dancing in the grass.  The air is once again filling with the music of songbirds.  The temperatures are rising, the gloves are off and the wave is back.

I hadn’t thought about the wave in quite some time.  Then the other day, driving across the ridge of Roxbury Mountain an old pickup truck approached in the oncoming lane and there it was.  A meaty hand lifted from the steering wheel in the traditional salute and a smile came through the windshield.  

When I was a child on the prairies, we would wave to cars that passed by the house.  I still remember the thrill it gave us when someone in one of those cars would wave back – usually the kids in the back seat.  It wasn’t until I moved to these glorious mountains that I encountered adults routinely waving at one another.

The first time it happened, I assumed that someone had simply mistaken my car for that of someone else.  People everywhere wave at people they know.  As it dawned on me that it wasn’t a case of mistaken identity, I began to understand that I had moved to an extraordinary place.  Here people wave at those they meet on the road.

Sometimes the salute is a full lifting of the hand and side-to-side motion.  More often, it is a simple lifting of the hand off the wheel, at the same time keeping contact.  Occasionally, two or three raised fingers are all you see.  There are those who accompany the wave with a nod and others, like my pickup man, give you a full smile.  Whatever the motion, it never fails to touch the spirit.

 

Perhaps it is because life here is more solitary.  More of us live in isolation on the mountains than together in the valley villages.  We may be able to see our neighbor’s house, lights through the trees in the dark of night; but rarely hear anything other than their dog’s occasional bark at a rabbit in the yard.  But, it seems to me that the wave is more than a simple by-product of low population density.  

This is also a place where the diverse forms that human life takes seem to all be okay.  The barriers of belief, race and gender that are at issue in the world at large seem here to be less important.  Au contraire, there is a welcome mat at every door.  At the same time this is a place where people fight for their convictions.  Disagreements get personal and long-term rifts are perpetuated by deep resentment.  Strangely, there seems to be no contradiction between the welcome and the fight.

The wave seems not to care who receives it.  I often find my own hand rising up just because there is an on-coming car.  I tend to use the left (the right must stay on the ready for shifting gears) and my head does a little bob.  Through the on-coming windshield the response is usually a wave in kind.  When surprise is registered it can only mean one of two things:  the person is in the area for the first time and is over there assuming mistaken identity or it really is someone I know and the wave expands into the hello of recognition.

As when I was a child, there is a thrill that comes from the momentary connection to another human being that the wave brings.  It is not unlike the feelings that fill the senses as winter looses its grip and spring fills the air with sound and scent.