Maybe it’s a small town phenomenon. Maybe it only happens in this small town. I don’t know, but my husband and I noticed the difference almost immediately after we moved here three months ago from the Chicago suburbs. The friendliness. The smiles. The way people take time to stop and chat to strangers like us.
It began with the morning walks we take every day. The path that goes past our house to the beach is a popular one with joggers and cyclists and people out walking their dogs. We were stunned by how everyone we met greeted us with a smile and a friendly, “Good morning.” If we stopped to watch the boats on the lake or a fisherman casting his line, we often found ourselves in a friendly conversation with a passerby. People wave if we’re sitting on our front porch.
Then there was the day I ran into the bank on a quick errand, my mind distracted by dozens of other errands on my list. The teller said something to me as I handed her my deposit slip but I didn’t catch it. “Pardon me?” I said.
She smiled. “I asked how your day is going for you.’” I barely knew how to reply! But my errands suddenly seemed less urgent as I took time to chat with her about weekend plans.
Moving to another state meant a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles for new driver’s licenses and plates for our cars. I steeled myself for the ordeal. We’ve moved numerous times over the years and I knew what to expect at the DMV. The underpaid, overworked civil servants in these busy offices rarely have much to smile about. But the people in our new hometown office were some of the friendliest I’ve ever met. The gentleman who gave me my vision test joked about the elderly woman who kept asking him where the focus knob was. The woman who took my driver’s license photo asked if I liked it or should she take it again. And when we were all finished, the man who had spent so much time doing our paperwork smiled and said, “Welcome to our community. I hope you enjoy it here.”
One of our neighbors delivered freshly-baked cookies to our door when she came to introduce herself. I didn’t think people did that anymore. The clerks who ring up our order in the supermarket chat with us as if we’ve known each other all our lives. Other bikers stop to tell us which new trails we should try. Strangers in the Farmer’s Market offer advice about where to buy the sweetest corn, the juiciest watermelon. A woman from one of the churches we visited came by with a loaf of fresh bread and other goodies from the town’s favorite bakery. My young neighbor across the street offered to water my plants when we went away for a weekend—and I’d only met her five minutes earlier!
I confess that I was very suspicious, at first. Why were people being so nice? Was it a trick? A scam? Did they want something from me? Sadly, I’ve built a huge wall of skepticism after living in an unfriendly metropolitan area for the past twenty-two years. But those walls are quickly toppling—and here’s the latest reason why. As I was writing this blog, one of our neighbors came to the door with this beautiful bouquet of flowers. He’d just picked them from his garden. For us!
The Bible says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine” (Proverbs 17:22), which means that the people in this town are going to live long, healthy lives. In his book, Run With the Horses, Eugene Peterson says, “You cannot be the person God wants you to be if you keep yourself aloof from others.” So I’ve been practicing my smile. I’ve decided I want a dose of God’s medicine.