On Your Left

Do you see me? I see you. Along my journey on the trails winding through our city, I see all of you. I see you walking hand in hand with your beloved. I see you guiding your toddling son back to the path when a single dandelion has captured his attention for far too long. I see you on your in-line skates, and your gaze fixed on the distant horizon. I see you pointing toward the turtles sunbathing on a rock lining Bear Creek’s stone-encrusted bank. I see the smile spread across your curly-headed daughter’s face as you gently push the swing she sits upon at the playground. All of these faces filled with delight enter my heart, and I wonder, do you see me?

“On your left,” I chime before I pass the slow-moving jogger as she plucks an earbud out of one ear and holds it close to her chest.  She wears her regretful decision to run like an iron garment stitched on with sweat and shin pain.  I smile and keep pushing the peddles on my mountain bike.  Saying “On your Left” is a common occurrence on the city trails.  It’s a courtesy afforded to those we approach from behind, alerting them to the danger that lurks should they make the unwise choice and suddenly move into our path.

Recently, I’ve wondered what happens if you don’t give this warning, and the person does step into your path.  If the person is injured, is it my fault?  Am I rude by failing to declare that I am approaching?  Am I unkind by pretending I don’t see you?  Why do we do say “On Your Left.”

Reason One – Avoidance of Injury

As I ponder this potential blind-sided scenario, my mind flashes to scenes from Tombstone.  In the Wild West, when gunslingers would get liquored up and subsequently offended, they would strap on their Colt six-shooter and step into the middle of the town square.  Wasting no time, a holler across the way at the two-timing, yellow-bellied varmint to alert this card-thief that his time has come and he should prepare to meet his Maker.  A battle of quick-draw and pulling on the triggers would ensue, and one person would be left for dead in the middle of Tumbleweed Hills.  The only thing less honorable than calling out a newfound enemy, dragging him to the center of street and firing rounds in his direction, was to shoot him in the back.  Imagine the disgrace that would befall this Western man if he was in the practice of shooting people in the back without the victim having the slightest notion that he was soon-to-be a dead man.  No.  A real cowboy cannot do this vile thing.  His conscience won’t allow it.  Society won’t allow it.  His pride won’t allow it.  He must make his offense known and settle matters like any other honorable western man.  It seems to me that not saying “On Your Left” is akin to shooting someone in the back.

Reason Two – Good Manners

As my mind wanders from the western frontier, I start thinking about places where people commonly fail to see me.  Stores, buses, schools, churches all are places I’ve experienced friends, acquaintances, and strangers pretending not to see me.  This pretending started during my days in middle school but became more pronounced in high school.  People I’ve known since the first grade didn’t see me sitting by myself at lunch or shoving my chemistry book into my locker, or walking down the sidewalk in front of the school.  Something unidentifiable happened at an undetermined point in time, and I became invisible. 

Pretending not to see someone isn’t a new phenomenon.  I’ve experienced it for decades, and I’ve done it to others.  I ask myself, why do I do this?  Why do other people do this?  What makes us want to avoid speaking to other people.  Are we afraid that kindness will not be reciprocated?  Are we too busy to simply say, “Hello?”  Will associating with someone bring judgment from others?  Does seeing and engaging this person require something I cannot or will not give?  Why do we avoid people? Is it something inside us?  Do we feel deficient in some way?  Elenor Roosevelt once said that no one could make you feel inferior without your consent.  Maybe the issue is within me or maybe it’s just bad manners.

Reason Three – It Matters

Mother Teresa says our first ministry or service to others is to smile.  A smile says, “I see you, and you matter.  I don’t know you.  I don’t know your name, but I do see you, and you are valuable. 

One of the places we are less likely to see others is on the streets in our very own town.  Worn down and weary souls hang the fringes of city parks, dwell under overpasses, and occupy space in abandoned storefronts. Driven by desperation, hunger, and the sheer determination to be seen, people who lack homes, security and comfort, beg to be seen when they hold strips of discarded cardboard with scribbled pleas for help and the reminder that God will bless you.  And isn’t that true?  God does say that even a cup of water given in his name will be rewarded.  If you have money, give it to the needy.  If you don’t, at least acknowledge the existence of the person and say hi.  I won’t kill you to be kind.  It will warm your soul. 

My challenge to you is this – whenever you see other people, acknowledge them.  Consider it a bit of a social experiment and see how you feel when after you’ve intentionally engaged others who come along your path.

  1. When you’re on the trails, say, “On Your Left.” Let’s face it. There’s no honor in shooting someone in the back. 
  2. Smile!  Smile at everyone!  Smile with your EYES!  When you smile at someone, it confuses them.  It’s like giving someone a virtual hug, and a warm feeling comes over them. 
  3. Acknowledge and engage! Say hi, comment on the weather, or compliment someone. If time permits, the next time you’re standing in line or riding on an elevator, strike up a conversation with someone. Make an effort to connect with others everywhere you go.
  4. Help others! If you see a need and you can help someone, do it!  Cash, blessing bags, and prayer are all excellent options for helping someone.  Leave the judgment of the worthiness of your recipient up to God.  It’s not your place to determine if the five dollars you give someone is used for cigarettes or a hamburger.  You’re being judged on your willingness to give, not on what the other person does with your gift.  Every person has value, and you don’t get to decide their worthiness.  Leave that God. 
  5. Serve people in your community! You are a part of a community where you work, where you live, where you go to school, and where your children go to school. Opportunities to serve in your communities are endless. Be involved and give others your time. The greatest gift you can give someone is your time. Time is a finite resource, and we seldom use it as we should. Everywhere you look, people need help doing something.

The bottom line is that we are all on this planet together.  Do your part to make it bearable by painting hello’s and happiness from one side of the world to the other!

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