Where the streets know my name…

There is a guy working at the gelato shop just around the corner, he reminds me of someone I love… I bought an ice-cream from him on Saturday, and I’ve walked past him multiple times since then on my way to and from the train-station. Every time I draw near that big plastic ice cream on the sidewalk in front of the shop where he works, I start smiling. Every time I walk past his shop, I am smiling. I’m smiling for him, because of him… And he doesn’t even know it. (I’m smiling for the someone I love too, and he doesn’t know it either… Except if he reads this, which he probably will… Hey you, I have smiled when I’ve thought of you more times than you can imagine. So many more.) Bar the time I actually bought an ice cream, this evening was the first time gelato shop guy and I had even a sliver of eye-contact. He had no other customers and I was so tempted to stop and buy an ice cream just so I had a reason to talk to him. (Yes, I already know he speaks at least some English!) But I was full to bursting with the Thai dinner I’d just had and my feet were crying in protest so I didn’t stop… I didn’t stop today, but I kept thinking about him… He’ll see me walk past again in the next few days, smiling… I might even buy another ice cream or two… But then, next week I will be gone. Vanished. As I walked past today, I imagined myself mysteriously erased from the scene, like they do in the movies. And he will still be there, but no curly-headed woman will be walking past smiling for him anymore. I feel strangely saddened by that fact.

Sociologists call them ‘weak ties’… I prefer to call them ‘wide friends’. Those peripheral relationships we all have, some in more abundance than others. We might not have a person’s number, invite them out to lunch, or consider them a ‘close friend’… But somehow, they have become a ‘wide friend’ and we have woven them into the social fabric of our lives. I love these relationships. I cherish them and I delight in their growth, and they’re the reason I will never legitimately be a ‘traveler’… If travelers are akin to hunters and gatherers, moving from place to place to gather what they need, then I am, by nature, a slow and steady, stationary farmer, planting the crops to sustain me. I can think of example after example after example of relationships that started in the seed of the most casual acquaintance then, over the course of a year or five, steadily and subtly grew into a strong, steady garden that supports, protects, nurtures and nourishes me.

I grew a friend at my old local fruit shop who had Sundays and Wednesdays off, so I would deliberately try to go on any of the other days so that I could have a chat with him. He didn’t know that, just like the guy at the ice-cream shop doesn’t know I’m smiling for him. We never saw each other outside of the fruit shop, and I can’t remember at all how we even first started talking except that I know I initiated it… Such a ‘little’ relationship… But we always both walked away grinning. When I moved away and then went back for a visit a few months later, we hugged on sight… Even though I don’t remember us ever having done the official ‘Hello’ handshake. I could write my way through dozens of relationships like this, each one of them cherished and gleaming with its own unique hue. Steve, the teller at my local bank branch who I always used to have a fun repartee with. Michelle, my account manager who I took chocolates to one day because she was just so lovely. Yoran with his superfood market stall who just made me grin on sight…. There are so many more that they’re tripping over themselves in a rush to my fingertips…

Some of the most joyous, contented, brilliantly loving moments of my life have been those times when I have realised that I was surrounded by a community that knew my name, and I knew theirs. There is much to be said for close friends… But I think sometimes we do not say enough, acknowledge enough, or even really see our ‘wide friends’. It’s been seven months now since I’ve lived in a community of wide friends… (Living on the mountaintop was not a season of putting down wide roots… And I barely come off the mountain to meet people anyway!) I may not know much about the immediate next steps of my life, but I know that, one of these days, I will grow a new garden- I will steadily, lovingly, joyful create a new community of ‘wide friends’…. And I will get to have that delicious experience of walking around and feeling like the very streets know my name…

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P.S. – Yes, there is of course a lot to be said for creating a ‘global community’… But the most abundant gold I have found thus far is in the local community.

3 thoughts on “Where the streets know my name…

  1. Adrianne Wood says:

    You make me think of places I have lived where people just in the locality are well I guess ‘wide friends’ so that every where I go people kind of know me and a few little things about me and me about them. These are positive contacts and help your life run more smoothly. I remember this since living in Woy Woy where there are some customer service people with awful attitudes. They are more like wide-enemies. I have experienced both. I think it worth it to avoid the unpleasant places for those that are positive. A kind of community grows from that as you say.

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