No one minds driving on Rock Hill Road, even though the speed limit is only 35, because along the way there are beautiful homes and lots of trees. The road ribbons its way through a quintessentially Midwestern town with reserved charm and subtle grace. Really very scenic, as far as roads go.
I take Rock Hill to work every day. I lived just off it for 16 years. I know it by heart. But as much as I enjoy a good drive and plush foliage, there's only one thing that's really special about Rock Hill: the waving guy.
This guy looks to be about 80 or 90. Every morning, for as long as I have known Rock Hill, the waving guy has been out there. He walks on the side of the road, without the convenience of a sidewalk or shoulder. Rain, shine, snow, monsoon--whatever--he's there. Ask almost anyone who's lived in town for a while if they've seen him. They'll smile a bit the way children do when you ask them about Santa Claus; that familiar-yet-excited smile that comes with the intimacy of joy. He brings a smile to me everyday, regardless of my mood. Come to think of it, I'm smiling right now.
The old man waves to every car. We're talking the Jimmy Stewart-at-the-end-of-It's a Wonderful Life-type waving. He doesn't discriminate or care if you laugh; he waves whether you respond or not. He's a permanent fixture in the setting, like a water fountain or the friendly dog in a sitcom; you just sort of expect to see him. He's a brief distraction from the everyday problems of your world; you'd almost certainly forget him if you didn't need him to be there. If we celebrated Christmas all year long, that's what the holiday spirit would feel like.
But now it looks like Christmas might be gone forever. I haven't seen the old man on Rock Hill Road in a few weeks and, frankly, I'm beginning to worry. I don't know his name or address and I've never really spoken to him, but I'm worried all the same. What if he's sick or dying or already dead?
Most importantly, I'm worried that he's given up on us. Here this total stranger made such an impact on my life, and I never bothered to tell him so. My mind likes to taunt me with the idea that maybe--just maybe--he quit walking because he began to feel like he didn't matter. Like he wasn't so important.
I dunno, maybe he was only waving for exercise. And maybe he didn't care if you were laughing because he didn't know you were. And maybe he was crazy or dumb or senile. But if this is a myth, I'd like to hold on to it, please. The hopeless romantic in me wants to turn this into a Chicken Soup for the Soul lesson. Smile and be friendly to people you meet, even if they're just passing through. Treat everyone equally well, be a joy and not a burden. Mean well, and do it everyday, regardless of the weather in your life. Blah, blah, blah, blah --you get my point.
I don't know. It's like losing Santa Claus all over again. When you're 5 you can bounce back. But now? I don't think there are enough Christmas cookies in the world to bring me out of a slump like this.