Almost every day, I drive the same route down the far side of Mayhill Road to get my tired self to school. I turn past the dump, trying to avoid the dismal smell and watch the houses fly by. One house, abandoned, faded white boards. I pass a clump of trees. Next house, a little worse for wear, but certainly inhabitable, a cute little thing, painted a burnt orange color, more by the sun than by any actual pigment. And at this cute little house, an old man sits almost every morning on an old, blue folding chair, facing the street and waving.
At every car that passes, this elderly man waves, avoiding the cane propped against the chair as he raises his hand to greet the busy people driving by, none-the-wiser to his life.
Every day, I wave back.
I’ve never thought anything of it, really. Just a kind old man, enjoying the sunrise, maybe a little lonely, maybe with a good wife and children, but it made my day every time I got to see him, and I smiled and waved just like I would to an old friend. It was nothing special, really. But early one Monday morning, while the air was crisper than it’s been all year, and I shivered in my poorly heated car, driving down Mayhill Road, I saw a sign. A huge sign painted white with bright blue lettering stating quite simply, “thank you for all the waves.”
It took me a moment to realize what it meant. He was thanking us. I assume there are more people than just me who take the time to wave as we drive by, for acknowledging him every morning. I waved at him as I drove on that day, grinning so big, my face ached.
We take too much for granted in our everyday lives; forget how much the little things mean. Sometimes we spend so much time worrying about the things we have to do that we forget how beautiful the sunrise can be on a bright winter morning. School children, teachers and parents alike waste away the hours with homework, grading, worrying about college and the next time they’ll get some free time and all too often they lose track of what’s important in their lives, really.
Everyone’s guilty of it. Often, I get caught up with trying to finish a book for class, trying to organize an activity for the National Honor Society or trying to type up the best college application I can possibly give. I get stressed and busy and a little cranky, thinking about all the things I have to do and all the things I wish were different in one particular moment. It slips my mind too often that those things are only a small part of every facet of this life. It escapes me, in fact, that I have a warm bed and good friends and a hot cup of tea. Sometimes, I have to go outside, take a deep breath and remember how good it is to be alive.
We all need to.
But how to keep track of what matters? Sure, you should pay attention to that big test coming up. Yes, you should do your best to pass your classes. Of course you need to get to your job on time, keep the house clean, do all of those things you’d rather not do which are, in fact, essential for a productive life. But it will never be a full life until you realize all of those things are only a portion of your life; they’re just the part that keeps you satiated, keeps you in a home, keeps you warm. They are not, however, the part that really matters.
What matters, in this storm of things assaulting us every time we stop to think about all the responsibilities we have or the future we don’t want to face? It’s different for every person. It’s those little things making you smile when you’ve had a bad day, making you happy to get out of bed. It’s the sun on your face or the wind in your hair or the laugh of someone you love.
The person who you just can’t decide if you’ve got a crush on or not? Doesn’t matter.
The one homework problem you forgot to do? Doesn’t matter.
Those headphones that don’t work, the milk you forgot to buy, the book you wished you had read before the big test, all those little things that when you step back and consider aren’t ever really going to effect the life you live in a week, in a month, in 10 years? They don’t matter.
What matters is you remember to watch the sunset every once in a while, to remind yourself how much beauty is left in the world.
What matters is you tell the people close to you that you love them. Every single day.
What matters, in comparison to the storm you can’t stop from coming, in comparison to the president you may or may not have voted for, in comparison to all those things you stress about when you put your head on your pillow and pull the blanket up over your body, is you’re here, living, breathing, laughing and ready to go on one step at a time and make it through the next day.
And sometimes, what matters is you help remind the other people around you that those little things are just as important as everything else. Sometimes, all it takes is a wave.
There always seems to be so much going on in this world, affairs by high-level officials, children taking their own life because of the harsh words of others, humans inflicting pain on other humans. But this one little gesture by a man to whom I’ve never even spoken, meant more to me than words can express. It reminded me of the importance of cherishing those around us, of the importance a simple smile, a wave, a few kind words, can have on our fellow man. And I suspect this man was simply trying to show his appreciation for the exact same thing.
SARAH MILES is a senior at Ryan High School and a participant in the Denton Record-Chronicle’s “Speak Out Loud” writing program for student journalists.