Monday, September 11, 2017

Saying hello

We have a few rough regulars at my library. Most days they're here. Some of them smell. Some have unpleasant obsessive habits, like relentlessly chewing, for instance, or covering their head in toilet paper. Some are insane and regularly complain to us about being followed. But mostly, in one way or another, they all just take up a lot of space, sonically, physically, and psychically.

Lately, to be contrary, I started warmly greeting these people. "Hey." I say with casual friendliness to the man who takes up four random chairs and a whole precious study room with his bag collections, grunts, and ocd rituals. He hasn't smiled in ten years, and he sure doesn't smile at my greeting, but he does look startled.

"G'night." I say warmly to the smelly young man, head down, scurrying to the exit a minute or two after we close. He glances up at me, confused at first. Then he grunts some kind of farewell back to me. Sounded like "Nnh."

Who am I being contrary to by greeting these people? I don't know. Them? The library culture? Myself? Yeah, probably, above all, myself. After all, who am I to tell myself what to do and how to be? I don't know everything! I don't have to listen to everything I have to say!

So how, you wonder, is my new "greetings" routine working out?

Hard to tell. Perhaps it is giving these people a tiny taste of human warmth and connection, shining a slender ray of hope and love into their lives. Or, possibly, it's just making them really, really, really nervous.

I see it as a win either way.


  1. I say, good for you and keep it up.
    Many years ago now I was walking near the History Center in St. Paul. A man was coming toward me, looking perhaps homeless--I don't recall what made me think that. Anyway, without any forethought I said something like "Hello! Isn't this a beautiful day?" He stopped in his tracks and said something to the effect that it had been a long time since anyone had spoken to him like a human being.

    I should do a lot more, but at least I did that.

    1. Oh, thanks, that sounds good. I was thirty percent sure I was doing something virtuous!


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