Walking each day for over a half-century in a small Norwegian town where villagers do not acknowledge passersby on the streets or on mountain trails unless we have been introduced. I have come to accept that deep-seated code of Scandinavian conduct. However, when I nod they are eager to say hi. After visiting there for several decades I came back to the house one morning and eagerly told my wife that a woman greeted me from the other side of the street. “What did she look like?” Liv asked, and I described her. “Oh, you met her some years ago in the market place.”
When I walk daily down toward the waterfront and onto the pier I have always waved at a resident in a home nearby, nearly a hundred yards away. There are not more than one or two villagers up at that hour in town. Every morning he sits on the patio with earphones, probably listening to music or the news reports, and watching the sunrise. He has never failed to wave back and that has gone on for at least ten years, once a month and nearly every year. One day he saw me walking on the backside of his house and yelled. “Please, come here!” And I’m thinking, it’s about time!
It takes a while to warm up to strangers in his culture. Ah, but he was the one who chose to meet together, and not I on that occasion. We introduced ourselves and wondered how we could have kept waving for so long without meeting.
We sat down in lawn chairs in his beautiful garden. He asked rather soon what I have been doing in life. Good question. I told him with a bit of a boast that I just finished a book on how to run deep with strangers.
He smiled and said “Well, obviously it takes some time on your part to make the first move with them, don’t you think? Does it always take nearly a dozen years and if so, you must not have had too many of them under your belt?” Good point. I didn’t have an answer for it.
“Tell me about the content of your book.”
“Well, it was based on my seminary dissertation a long time ago regarding how to get beyond mere chatter and run deep with strangers in a single encounter. And it might have had to do with my mother dying young and not having the kind of intimacy with my dad who was from the generation that held back on empathy. Before I married I risked running deep with strangers and experiencing some much-needed compassion, I guess.”
He suddenly said “Ah, you must be a priest. I think I know how your relational theory might work between strangers. It may go like this.” He plunged candidly into what he was doing in life. He was a retired civil engineer, divorced after 37 years, has been dating a bit, has four kids, three boats on a dock next to his place and caught 50 good-tasting Makrel fish the day before. He admitted single life was tough in a small town but he was adjusting to it. “And, by the way,” he admitted, “I’m pretty much an atheist if that matters.” He was not boasting but wanting to reveal to me who he was in a nutshell and skip the small talk. We opened up to each other for an hour or so.
The next day before I waved to him he held a thumbs up. So that will likely be our greeting from now on.