My niece is in her 40’s. She lives in group home with other developmentally and intellectually challenged women. She refers to herself and her housemates as special-she drops the word “needs” from that explanation, because that isn’t what she means-she means they are special. When I am with her, she exudes a joy that I admire and desire to emulate. She has never met a stranger.
Once while waiting for a table in a restaurant, she turned to the man sitting on a bench next to us and said, “do you like dogs?” It was beyond her comprehension that the man would not care to engage, beyond her understanding that he would pretend to not hear her. Undaunted she said, “I love dogs. I have 3 of them.” She was redefining friendly for all of us. She didn’t use a tight-lipped smile, a slight nod to indicate she was sharing personal space with someone she had never seen before. She engaged by inquiring if they might have a common love for dogs. The man turned to look at her, studied her eager face all aglow with the prospect of making a friend. He said, “Yes. Yes, I do love dogs. What kind of dogs do you have?”
I’m not sure exactly what to call the feeling that swept our cramped space in that restaurant waiting area, but I know a partial explanation is grace. We had all been schooled by one of God’s innocents on how to reach out, like a child, to make a connection with another soul. There was no big, grand expression we generally liken to friendliness – just a childlike inquiry intended to engage a grumpy, impatient-looking person sharing her personal space. It was a way to connect the rest of us who were far too sophisticated to pursue. Since then I have examined my understanding and application of friendliness-tamped down the cheerleader enthusiasm and tried to be more thoughtful in how I engage with strangers. I am grateful for the example of my niece, who truly is a special kind of friendly.
At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.”
How do you feel about being “friendly” to a stranger? Is it a sign of civility? Culture? Size of the city where you live?