Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Surprised by Friendliness
A couple of weeks ago I went for my walk and was surprised by a very unusual display of friendliness. Something happened that I have not encountered in at least fifteen years. As I was walking, a police car approached on the same road, with two police officers: one was driving; the other, in the right front seat, seemed to be taking notes or examining something. As they drew near I looked at them and made eye contact and the one on the passenger side waved to me.
Wow! I have not encountered this in well over a decade!
In times past, I nearly always waved to the police. I counted the police officers as public servants, as my friends who devoted their lives to me and the rest of the community, serving to help keep us all safe. Twenty years ago I would not have thought it a wonderful surprise to have a police officer wave to me, especially not in response to my initial show of friendship and confidence. But that was many years ago.
Since then I have stopped waving. After about a decade of waving with no friendly response whatsoever from any of the officers to whom I waved, sometimes even encountering a scowl instead of the friendly smile and wave that I expected in return, I gave up waving.
In fact, I have actually become afraid of waving to them. Whereas I previously looked to the police with trust, I now fear them. I many times in the past ten years have called 911 to report people on the busy expressways who were in need of assistance. Since such busy expressways are not appropriate places for a person without flashing lights and the authority to redirect traffic to attempt such things, I have called for those properly equipped. But after a number of years of attempting to be of service as a good and caring citizen, I became aware that I was drawing attention to myself. I was making myself known to those who track such things.
An example is when a fellow had an extension ladder fall off his truck and block portions of the expressway. I wanted to stop and help clean it up, but knew that I would increase the danger by blocking the road with my vehicle and by adding another person to the scene. So I called 911. The response of the dispatcher made it clear that I was adding to the file that was being kept on me.
911 keeps track of every word. 911 asks for identification of the caller, and for the phone number, and many other bits of information that have nothing whatsoever to do with the incident. It makes me cringe even to think of the number of times that I am listed as a person who involves himself in things. Today this is a red flag. In times past such people were counted as good citizens.
The fear of red flags kept on me does not keep me from caring and from becoming involved in helping others. However, it does make me much more leery of the police and others who are keeping track of me.
So it was a delight when this police officer waved to me.
Yet it also left me wondering what this really means.
It is saddening to me to realize that our nation and society have become such that even an act of kindness or a show of friendliness, especially from someone working for the government, has come to be cause for suspicion. It makes me sad to know that my perspective has been thus affected. It makes me even more sad to acknowledge that such a change in perspective is largely justified.
Nevertheless, it is still a joy to report this instance of what at least I perceived as a kindly show of friendliness from one whom I have become conditioned not to expect to demonstrate such. It was a joy to see this police officer wave to me.
And yes, I did wave in return. I did so sheepishly and leerily, but also with a glimmer of hope.