Last week I challenged you to say hello to at least 5 strangers. The point of the challenge is for us to become more aware of those around us. Let’s keep saying hello but go further and start a conversation.

I had a couple of interesting encounters but mostly I say “hey” and smile and the other person does the same. Some people don’t say anything but smile as they walk past me. I’ve noticed if I’m waiting in line and say hello a conversation usually takes place. Today I had a really nice talk with an older gentleman as we sat in the waiting room of the dental office. He told me about his wife and praised her biscuit making skills. She makes them for him every morning.

When I took this challenge a couple of years ago, I met Edna at my local library. She’s an older woman with white hair. She told me she can’t type very well.hello

I also met Mr.Grocery Guy. Although I didn’t get his name, I found out he’s working on his degree in finance and he turned down a great intern opportunity to marry the love of his life. He and his love are now divorced after 2 years of marriage. I told him I was sorry and he told me it was okay. He is back on track with his finance career goals. I learned all of this while he was helping me get my groceries to my car. I told him good luck with his endeavors and he said a hearty “thank you”.

The most interesting conversation was with a young mother in the parking lot at the library. I noticed her talking on her cellphone very loudly and I smiled at her. When I came out of the library she stopped me as she was driving out of the parking lot. She apologized for her shouting. She explained that she doesn’t always do that then shared more about her situation. Her husband is out of work and instead of going with her to look for a job as planned, he went with his friends to make a drug run. I put my hand on hers and asked her name, then her husband’s name. I told her I was sorry about what she’s going through and she drove off.

I’m unsure of why she felt like she needed to share that.

Except this: she wants someone to know. She wants to feel less alone in her fight. Her heart is breaking for her children and she needs to know someone cares. She needs hope.

Do these encounters matter? I think so. I know they matter to me. They keep me connected to others and their hurts. While I’m worrying what to fix for dinner the young mother from the library parking lot is worrying for the safety of her children. That shakes me up. It forces me to get out of my comfortable middle class world and get out there and do something…..anything that can help give people hope.

There’s lots of ways to help. Serve meals to the homeless, teach a class to women at a transition home, volunteer at your local schools, tutor kids, mentor young people, visit nursing home residents or those in prison, become certified as foster parents. These are all ways to make a difference.

Or you could buy a house in a deprived neighborhood, fix it up, and live there. I have friends who are doing this. This isn’t a year long project or a temporary deal either. They’ve been there 6 years. They’re living right where the help is needed, building life-giving relationships and making a difference in their neighborhood.

It’s called living on purpose. It’s called living like it matters.

And it can start with hello.

I will issue another challenge soon.  Until then, keep saying hello.