The man on the street corner held out his arms and waved them. The motion was reminiscent of a child playfully pretending to fly. The expression on the man’s face was playful, too. He was wearing a huge smile.
In the man’s left hand was a ragged piece of cardboard. Written on it were the words “JUST SMILE.” Certainly the bearer of the sign was doing just that. Is it a sad mark of the times that most of those who saw him there, from their cars or as pedestrians, returned his beaming smile with expressions that were imbued with far less openness and certainty?
What would make a man greet countless strangers with such extravagant joy? It was the first day of 2010. Was he on a mission to begin the new decade on a positive note for all? Or was he drunk from an overindulgence of New Year’s Eve libations?
A couple of pedestrians crossed the street, rather than approach the figure of happiness too closely. Observing his outstretched arms, perhaps they feared this most happy fellow would draw them into an exuberant embrace if they stepped within his reach.
Perhaps because they were protected by their metal cocoons, and because they knew exit would be easy thanks to their motorized vehicles, some drivers were more willing to engage with the gleeful man, at least verbally. But their comments were not consistent in their content or tone. “Tied on one too many, buddy?” one asked. “What’s so funny?” another demanded. “You OK, friend?” another asked. But this driver’s concern lasted for only the span of a red light. He moved on with traffic as soon as the light turned green, without receiving an answer.
One woman waved and beamed back as she zoomed past the waving smiler. A teen-age driver gave him the thumbs-up before moving on. A trucker blew his horn. But who could say whether this was a signal of camaraderie or warning blast exhorting the jolly man to keep his place on the sidewalk?
One thing was for certain. Inebriated or not, one man’s childlike abandon to gladness made everyone who observed him stop and think — at least enough to measure how they should react to him. I would like to believe that the thinking did not stop at speculating about whether to cross the street, shout a comment, wave a greeting or blow a horn. I hope with all my heart that at least a few of the glad man’s observers hoped that our world would become a place where unbridled happiness need not be suspect, where a man could stand on a street corner, welcoming in the new year with arms wide open.