Free Smiles & Waves

It’s hard to ignore the waves of sadness that seem to have blanketed most of my friends and family after the mass shooting in Las Vegas on Sunday night. Acts of senseless violence have a way of weighing on the community, whose members seek to find a reason behind it. People’s lizard brain tends to overreact with fight or flight. Fingers look to place blame…whether it be on politicians, gun-laws, organized groups of people, religion, psychotherapists that “didn’t do their jobs well enough,” the full moon…whatever gives order to chaos and a way to shift that sadness to anger.

Times like this are when we need to choose compassion over anger, love over hate, and kindness over blame. To me, that starts with simple human connection. There’s a quote that I read years ago that has stuck with me to this day:

“No one needs a smile more than someone who has none to give. A smile costs nothing, yet creates much.”

Today I made two signs; one that said “Free Smiles” and another that said “Free Waves.”

Thankfully, I don’t have a commute because I work from home. Remembering from my own commuting to and from past jobs, traffic is another trigger for people’s anger, especially after a stressful day at work. I thought this evening was the perfect time to spread some cheer and human connection.

I posted up in a chair on Pacific Coast Highway with my two signs and my happy dog, Tucker. (If you didn’t like smiles or waves, my third charm would be the Tuckster. But really, who doesn’t likes smiles? They’re contagious!)

Sitting on PCH
The smile and wave greeting committee.

The first minute or so, I will admit that I felt a little awkward smiling and waving at people. My own lizard brain kicked in with trying to protect me emotionally by creating self doubt in the hopes I’d back down. It said, “Everyone will think you’re a mental patient who got loose. Why would anyone want your smiles and waves? There is a reason no one wanted to do this with you. You’re embarrassing yourself.”

After calming my lizard brain down, I focused on trying to make eye contact with each driver and passenger that passed by. This was easier to do when they were sitting targets at the stop light. I did get some questioning looks until folks were close enough to read my signs. Once they did, a recognition and an instant smile came over their faces.

One woman, who looked to be in her late 60s and was walking to the beach, was hesitant to respond to my “Hello!” until she read my signs and with a relieved sigh said, “OH! I was wondering what your signs said. I didn’t think you looked homeless.”

I got honks and waves, and many people rolling down their windows to shout, “Love what you’re doing!” There were parents who pointed me out to their kids in the back seats who excitedly waved at me. Some people engaged me in a ‘wave-off’ like dance competition with hand movements, jazz hands and “the wave” like you’d see at a baseball game. Others took photos with their phones before shouting “Thank you!” out the window as they sped off.

A policeman on a motorcycle stopped to say, “I’ll take both a wave and a smile!”

The teenagers seemed most enthusiastic to respond, which I found pleasantly surprising. Their genuine beaming smiles and exuberant waves back at me made me tear up. No joke. At one point, I felt an overwhelming sense of love and gratitude.

Here I thought I was giving them something, when in reality, their returned smiles only fueled more energy in me to continue waving and smiling. One would have thought waving for an hour would make my arm tired, but the time flew by as fast as the cars did. So many people welcomed smiling and waving at a stranger. That is so awesome.

Love is stronger. Always.

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