Last week, on my way home from a place I can't remember, I was sitting on the subway staring at people (as usual). Suddenly, an older sixty-something man boarded my subway car and sat down across from me. Though there was hardly any one else on the subway car, he obliviously sat right next to the only other person on his side of the bench. Their coats basically touching, I couldn't help but smile when the other man, looking annoyed, started to scoot away. The older man, completely unaware, smiled to himself while staring upwards at an advertisement for a personal injury lawyer.
Watching this oblivious older man smile to himself made me smile. And as my eyes scanned downwards, I couldn't help but notice that this was the cutest man I had ever seen. He had white hair that was pushed back immaculately behind his ears and clear framed glasses. He wore a white pressed collared shirt buttoned up to his neck with a plaid bow tie. In a loose fitting coat, he had draped a silk scarf around his shoulders. His pants were slightly too short, which allowed me to get a glimpse of the deep purple socks he was wearing. And his shoes...the typical black, rubber-soled, old man shoes. His hands lay folded in his lap.
Watching him smile to himself in this adorable outfit while sitting too close to the man next to him melted my heart. And, in a not-so subtle attempt to capture this moment, I whipped out my i-phone to take a picture. The other man, fully aware of what I was doing, and very confused as to why I was taking a picture, got up and moved to a different section of the subway car. Whoops. I pretended like I was then writing a text message, to "throw the old man off,"even though there is no service in the tunnels. I didn't even need to pretend, the older man was completely unaware. I took four more pictures, including one of his socks.
We both got off and 2nd and 2nd. As he walked in front of me, I was torn between making small talk, paying him a compliment, or saying nothing. My internal struggle lasted the length of the subway tunnel, until we both approached the stairs to exit. "Say it, Ker" I ordered myself. "This is so awkward," I muttered, knowing what I was about to do.
"Excuse me, sir," I blurted. The old man turned to look at me. "I just wanted to say . . . that, well, I saw you on the subway . . . and you are the cutest dressed man I have ever seen."
After my blurtation, I realized that perhaps there were more eloquent and mature compliments of which I could have shared, but regardless . . . this is what came out.
The old man inhaled deeply and then he exhaled with an energetic, "Oh my gosh! Well THANK YOU! THANK YOU!" He started beaming and a borderline giggle slipped through his lips.
"Well, I can't WAIT to get home to tell everyone what you said tonight. Thank you for sharing that with me young lady."
"You're welcome," I said, and then fled the scene of the compliment. Because after all, compliments to random strangers are awkward, but full conversations with people in the subway are even more awkward.
"Have a wonderful holiday," I yelled over my shoulder as I waved goodbye.
"You bet!" he called after me, waving frenetically.
Alone up on the street, I smiled. Smiled at the sight of the smiling man--the "cutest dressed man I've ever see-- and smiled at how ridiculously long it took me to say something. But then the bittersweetness set in . . . why was I so scared to give a compliment to a stranger? How often am I walking on the street and walk past people of any age and think, "that person is beautiful," or "that child is precious," or "that woman has a wonderful smile," or see a person visibly upset and think "I wish that person peace." And how often do I ever utter those thoughts to the people themselves? Never. Really never.
What is it about society that makes us so fearful to engage with someone we don't know? What makes it even harder to look someone in the eye and to pay them a personal compliment? Why are the most loving sayings the hardest to utter, even to those that we know and love? I'm not really sure, but I'm going to try to speak my positive thoughts to people more often. Because it matters to people, and even when it doesn't, it somehow matters to me to share that with them. And though it is likely that a few people will think I'm crazy as I blurt ineloquent compliment, it's a risk that I'm willing to take to fight this trend of "say nothing."
You should do it too . . . I dare you.