Almost every day for months I’ve taken a morning walk at the lake near my home. During these walks I’ve had the chance to meet many wonderful people. Usually I meet their dogs first and then, over the course of several interactions, I finally introduce myself to the dog’s “person.” Funny the way that works, but there you have it. There was one particular gentleman, a man in his mid to late 70s I’m guessing, who was an enigma to me. No matter how many times I passed him on the trail, he never waved, never said hello. He didn’t have a dog so I couldn’t use my usual M.O. to engage. I started to imagine him to be a bit of an ogre—or at the very least a curmudgeon.
My old people-pleasing wound started to surface. “Why doesn’t he like me? How can I GET him to like me?” Then the inner dialogue turned to, “Screw him! What a jerk!” I imagined him to be a miserable person, chasing kids off his lawn, snapping at neighbors and then going inside to eat his gruel—alone. But then I started to feel sorry for him. Maybe he doesn’t have anyone in his life. Maybe he’s hard of hearing. I made it my mission to somehow connect with him.
Each time I saw him coming, I kept my head high. As we passed, I looked right at him and said “Good morning” with the biggest smile I could muster at 8:00 AM. Most days he completely ignored me. Occasionally I’d get the slightest nod, but not even the hint of a smile. Yet, I was encouraged. One day, while talking with a couple I had met at the lake a few months prior, the old gentleman walked past us. He nodded towards my friends and waved! What was happening?!
“He never speaks to me,” I told the couple. “He’s a good guy. We’ve talked with him a few times. He mainly keeps to himself,” they told me. Again, the old wound surfaced. “So, you DO talk to people—just not me!” Believe me, I’m aware of how crazy this all sounds. Who cares, right? Yet, I was convinced he didn’t like me for some unknown reason. I created a whole story in my head of why he didn’t like me and why, now, I didn’t like him—and we had never even had a conversation! I see this a lot in today’s climate.
After a while, I gave up. I’d see him in passing, but now I just walked past him without a nod or hello. I sensed his relief (or maybe I imagined it). Then, about 2 weeks ago, something interesting happened—something that I still can’t explain. It was a sunny but very cool morning—maybe in the high 30s or low 40s. As I finished my walk and headed to my car, I passed the park ranger’s office. There were 4 rose bushes in bloom in the garden in front of the office. Strange for October, but the vibrant red blossoms were too inviting to pass up.
I walked up to one of the bushes and bent down to smell one of the roses. Just as I was about to take a big whiff, I noticed that a bumblebee was laying on her back inside the flower! She looked like a baby in a crib, with arms and legs going. I was fascinated. She was grooming herself while laying on her rose petal mattress. I had to get a video of this! Just as I pulled out my camera, she started to climb out of the flower. She rested on a petal, so still that she looked dead. But no, she was patiently warming herself in the sun.
I watched her for at least 15 minutes and was lost in the moment. Suddenly I heard footsteps. I looked up and there was the old man. He made a slight nod. For some reason I blurted “I’m watching this bumblebee warm herself in the sun.” He immediately smiled and said, “isn’t that neat?” To my amazement he walked over to take a peek. “It’s cold. But she’ll be out flying soon.”
For the next 25 minutes, he and I chatted about birds, Bobcats, the lake, kayaking—on and on the conversation went, without a pause, without any awkwardness. I learned his name is John. John let me know he has several kayaks and that I could borrow one any time. “I live just around the corner,” he said. I learned that he had a son, grandsons and that they all liked to go fishing. Just like that, we were no longer strangers.
When I got home that day, I thought of all the stories I had conjured up about this person. How wrong I was! How often we make assumptions about someone without really knowing them. Then I thought of the bumblebee, patiently warming herself in the sun. She didn’t rage at the temperature or force herself to fly out into the cold morning air. She allowed the sun to take its time to warm her. She stayed present in the moment, enjoying the comfort of her rose petal.
Human connection is like that. It can’t be forced. But if we soften into the moment and allow connection to happen organically, it can be an amazing and even surprising experience. It can take time for people to warm up to you. Finding common ground is often the magic ingredient. In this case, “common ground” came in the form of a bumblebee, patiently waiting for her daily adventure to begin.