Before meeting my husband, Chris, I was not in the habit of initiating “hello’s”, other than the necessary ones when answering the phone. Interestingly enough, while working on my writing for this month, I learned that “hello” became part of our everyday language in the late 1800’s for exactly that purpose – Thomas Edison proposed the greeting as the standard for initiating a telephone exchange. So popular did “hello” become, that early telephone operators were referred to as “hello girls.” This is one of the things I love most about history – the quirky, random facts you learn that tell the story about everyday things you’ve just assumed always were.
Speaking of history, as I said at the beginning, I was not always a hello kind of girl. I can remember as a little girl, when people would say hello to me, I would often hide behind my mom. While I stopped literally hiding as I grew older, I often found ways to avoid having to talk with anyone other than the few, trusted people I deemed safe. As a result, the story that unfolded one fall day, 31 years ago, in the parking lot at Calvin College, has always been evidence to me of some kind of divine intervention.
I walked out of my dorm that afternoon, headed down the sidewalk to the parking lot where I was to meet my dad. My car wouldn’t start, so I’d called home for help, grateful that my parents lived only a few miles down the road. As the minutes passed, I grew tired of waiting and sat down on the curb. I began to wonder if my dad forgot, and started anxiously running scenarios through my mind for how I would get to work without a car. Distracted by my thoughts, I didn’t notice a car pull up in front of me until I heard, “Hello? I’m wondering if you could tell me where I could find a student directory? I’m looking for a friend of mine who transferred here.” I looked up to find that the voice belonged to the driver of a little Pontiac Sunbird – a cute driver – and he was talking to me! He seemed harmless and friendly enough, so I gave him directions to the lobby desk in my dorm.
Fifteen minutes later, I was still sitting on the curb when he returned. Some brave part of me decided in that moment to risk being a hello kind of girl. I caught his gaze. “Did you find your friend?” “No, I guess he must have changed his mind, because he isn’t listed as a student.” “Oh, that’s too bad.” Awkward pause. Crap! What else do I say? If I don’t think of something quick, he’ll leave. Wait, why am I even thinking about talking to him? He’s a total stranger! But he’s also very friendly, and appears interested…what should I do? The anxious chatter inside my head effectively shut down my ability to speak again, until he stepped forward and extended his hand. “Hi, I’m Chris Stark. I go to Grand Rapids Baptist College just up the road. What’s your name?” And so it began.
Looking back on that day, I think something in Chris saw and called out the hello kind of girl who was really in me all along. I was different with him. I began to take risks and speak up in ways I never would have dared before. As we married and moved around the country, I got a lot of practice saying hello to people I didn’t know, hoping each time for a welcoming face, a potential friend. At some point over the next several years, that risk-taking girl got lost under the weight of disappointment, betrayal and loss. I was terrified to realize that the man I had said hello to with such certainty had become someone I didn’t know, and didn’t particularly like. During a marriage intensive that felt like our last hope, our counselor named the madness Chris recognized in me when we first met, and the wildness I recognized in him. He called us back to what each of us knew, at the deepest soul level…and yet, didn’t know that we knew. Or had perhaps forgotten that we knew. And in our session that day, we actually said hello to each other, because in some strange sense, we were just meeting.
I believe there is something mysterious that happens when a connection is made between two people – something that allows each to be more fully who they were created to be.
We need the reflection of another, mirroring back to us what is true, and good, and lovely. While this has been true in my marriage relationship, it has also been true with others – even, at times, complete strangers. When I welcome another with a warm hello, holding their gaze and speaking kindness with my eyes and my smile, I believe each of us sees something of our truest selves reflected in the other’s face. In those moments of connection, we bear witness to the goodness of our Creator, goodness he planted deep in our hearts. When I see that reflection in someone’s eyes, or feel that reality in my own heart, I want to step out in all my hello kind of girl glory, eager to continue the echo of Divine love.
Janet Stark is a woman learning to bless her depth and sensitivity. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband, Chris and their kids and grandkids. Janet loves curling up with a good book, trying new recipes on her friends and family, and enjoying long conversations with friends over a cup of really good coffee. She is a life-long lover of words and writes about her experiences here.