When I began running the Houston greenbelts, one of the first things I noticed about the greenbelt caretakers was how careful they were to be respectful towards greenbelt users.
I would see them note my approach from a distance and carefully arrange to have their equipment to the side and their eyes downcast by the time I was actually passing by.
For women, there’s sometimes a slight anxiety when preparing to run by a group of men. (And that’s not just running on greenbelts but also on city streets and small town sidewalks.) I’m not saying that it’s fair that we feel that way...and we don't want to feel that way... I’m just saying that sometimes we feel that way. Maybe the men will say something, maybe they won’t, maybe they’ll ogle or leer, maybe not; but the woman never knows, and hence, the slight tension.
So when I realized that this would always be so, that I would always pass by unaccosted, I relaxed joyfully into my runs.
As the weeks passed by, I entertained various thoughts about the why of the caretakers' actions, but ultimately I began to find their efforts to make sure I felt safe...touching.
And then one day I woke up and instead of relaxing into the security of the unspoken rule I was itching to break it.
I said it. Just like that. “Good Morning.”
Heads came up, eyes met mine, and voices returned my greeting with grins, wide and genuine.
It was a Beautiful Thing.
In the days that followed, I always had to say it first, but they always answered, and soon we were exchanging “Good Mornings” often.
AND THEN ONE DAY
And then one day when the heads came up, I encountered a Nobleman.
It was weeks after the Hurricane, but they were still laboring to clear the debris from the paths. As I approached, I pulled my canine running companion close so we could maneuver around a small green-and-white pickup truck pulled over to the side of the sidewalk as far as possible; and while I did that, the caretakers turned off various pieces of equipment and gathered in a small group to the left to let me pass by.
All of them except one.
I drew closer, carefully watching The One Who Did Not Step Away.
He could only have been 17 or 18. His posture was strong, erect, his shoulders squared. He held himself confidently and met my gaze straight on, his steady dark eyes filled with a soft light.
And that young man, he was looking at me as if –
as if –
as if I were Something Special.
He made a sudden movement, and I was startled.
There was a tall weed (as high as my chest!) stretching across the sidewalk from left to right, in my path.
I had not noticed it.
But he, in one quick, smooth gesture, swept it aside and held it there for me to pass.
As if I were a queen.
That’s all I can compare it too. It’s silly, I know, but there was something about his demeanor as he looked at me from that place of quiet confidence that seemed to say that I was important, so important that my path should be cleared of even the slightest impediment. There was nothing servile or artificial about his act. It was confident and genuine. As if he were a knight of old and only doing what noblemen do.
“Oh!” I stammered. “Thank you!”
He inclined his head in a single gracious nod.
I gave the noble young man my best smile and moved on quickly (in accordance with The Unspoken Greenbelt Rules of Behavior), wishing that I had thought of a way to tell him how much his small act had touched me, how it absolutely made my day.
Like a queen.
You probably think I'm going to ask you to be the Young Nobleman for someone today. That I'm going to challenge you to REACH OUT and show someone they are Something Special.
(Well, yes, actually, that would be a great thing to do today.)
In a world filled with mean stories and mean acts, today I ask you to LOOK (you can't see if you don't look) for the men and women in your world who still live by a code of thoughtfulness and kindness -- the ones who keep reaching out, the ones who wish to be truly helpful, the ones who act as if you are Something Special --
and find a way to say
___ This morning my Thank You goes to Little Sister, who has cleared more weeds from my path than I can count...