A couple of weeks ago, I was getting coffee at a local shop that I go to all the time. The barista at the register and I know each other by name, but he hadn’t really seen me yet. He was still punching keys in the tablet register as he greeted me with something like, "Hey, how are you? What can I get started for you today?" He was pleasant, sincere, and lovely, and there was absolutely nothing wrong with his greeting. When he looked up and saw that it was me, he brightened up and said, "Hey, Summer! How is it going?" We had some great small talk, I got an amazing latte, and we said our farewells. What struck me is this: do I say hello to people I don't know with a different brightness than I greet my friends with? If so, why?
Again, I know he was very kind and sincere in his hello, and I don't fault him for anything he did. It just struck me funny and made me wonder if I'm giving other people my best when I don't know them yet. When I walk past someone I don’t know and we meet eyes, I smile and nod, but am I being my most genuine? Are my eyes smiling, too? It reminded me of when I was in marching band in high school and we had just come back to school after we totally messed up at a competition. We had not given our best, and we rode back in silence. We stood outside the band hall, sad, sweaty, and beat, and I'll never forget what one of the drum majors said to us. "Everyone, raise your hands as high in the air as you can." We sighed as we put down our instruments and hat boxes, and we all put our hands in the air. "Now raise them two inches higher." So we did. And we caught an earful for it.
I highly value citing my sources, but I can't remember for the life of me who introduced this next concept to me; if you know, please tell me so I can reread their book! The concept I ponder is this: how do I view groups of people I don't know? Examples are folks in line at the store, other parents at a school event, fellow diners at a restaurant, people stuck in the same traffic I am, etc. Do I view them as one insurmountable thing in my way? Are they on my side? Am I on theirs? Are they too loud? Do I think of them as people who are trying to break the rules and get ahead of me? These are terrifying and humbling thoughts, and it has really changed how I treat other people I don't know. Sure, we smile at cashiers, open doors for others, and apologize when we bump into someone, but do I feel like they're on the same team with me? Are we in this together or are they the enemy in my day?
To put it all together, am I giving my best to everyone who bears the image of God or do I play favorites? Does the employee at the store feel that my Thank You is genuine, or is it just a line I use to tell them they can go back to what they were doing? Do I take the time to look the server in the eye when I ask for something? When someone lets me go down the cereal aisle first, do I just nod? Gosh, do I even do that because I think I deserved to be first?
When I hear how the Gospel-writers describe Jesus and when I hear pastors and speakers describe him, I know he was a charismatic and loving person who naturally drew others to himself. He seemed like such a magnet for people; no one with a need seemed turned off by him. I feel like he had Resting Compassion Face, you know? In movie portrayals of Jesus, I love it when he is shown as someone who seems so full of joy that he's almost laughing through many of his lines.
So when I come across strangers throughout my day, I try to remember to smile at them just as I would to a dear friend of mine. I want them to feel valued, loved, and seen merely by how I look into their eyes, say hi, or thank them. We are all human beings who bear the image of God. There is a piece of God's beauty in every face we see; every single one. There is a trait of God that they can show us, and shame on me for dismissing anyone because I just don't know them. As CS Lewis said in The Weight of Glory,
“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously - no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.”
Human souls are eternal, and I need to have this on the top of my mind with every individual I encounter. I want to be someone who makes others feel seen and valued even though we don't stop and talk. I want my eyes to smile when my mouth smiles, and I want people to suspect that I have a secret to joy they should know. Except it isn't a secret I plan to keep.
Summer Cromartie is wife, mother, yarn whisperer, residency graduate, and Forge Dallas Storyteller.