I've been walking regularly for about a half hour everyday and on most days that I am at work I take my daily constitutional out the door of the library, along a residential street that is wooded wetland on one side and down along another residential street with houses right on the ocean's shore.
I get a whole hour for lunch (unpaid mind you) so I mostly take the walk during the lunch hour. With the variety of weather in New England, I might be bundled up like an Inuit or changed into non-work clothes with my jacket tied around my waist.
Last Monday as I walked I ruminated to myself about the differences in regional style in America. A New England transplant, I was considering how in the Midwest where I grew up it is much more common to greet strangers whose path you cross with a warm hello. Here it is more common not to acknowledge people when you are out walking. On Monday I must have crossed paths with several people and neither of us shared a greeting.
I especially notice the difference when my parents have come to visit. Until a couple of years ago, they only wintered where it was warm for their retirement and still lived in the Midwest the rest of the year. If we went for a walk in the neighborhood, they would naturally say hello to each and every person we walked past. One time when they went walking without me, they even struck up a long conversation with a man about a half mile away who lived in a very interesting looking old house with beautiful landscaping/gardens who I never did meet myself. If my thoughts turn to these regional variations, my recollection about my parents' visits here usually resurface.
Then later last week I was out walking at lunch when an older gentleman passed me coming in the other direction. He commented on the weather and I spontaneously responded to his enthusiastic demeanor with a friendly reply. Before I knew it, we had both stopped and were engaged in conversation. He very proudly shared with me that he was 91 years old and that the doctors told him he should walk regularly for a half hour to keep up his health. He seemed very spry and young - hardly 91! I heard a little about his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. One of his sons had been the county sheriff prior to the current one. His wife had died last April at age 89. I told him a little about my employment up the road at the library. Then we parted and I definitely had less time to swallow a few bites of lunch after adding in the extra time spent thus on my lunch hour.
During our encounter I had nary a thought in my head about my previous ruminations. It was only after the fact that I remembered I had only just engaged in stereotyping about New Englanders not greeting people on the street. It seemed that the "universe" was not going to let me get away with this type of thinking and offered me a quick lesson and reminder about the fallacy of stereotypes. I sheepishly felt as if I had my knuckles rapped yet felt grateful for the experience. My stereotypes about how much infirmity one might have at age 91 were exposed as well in this experience.
Sometimes stereotypes arise from a kernel of truth but the danger in applying them to life is that every rule admits of exceptions and every stereotype can be disproven in a heartbeat by the beautiful diversity of human experience. Invariably they diminish us.
When I walked at work on my lunch hour after meeting Mr. Nelson, both times I greeted the people I passed and they returned in kind. I certainly hope that the next time I unconsciously fall into the stereotyping habit that I am again caught so I can steer my steps back to higher ground.