The late great John Prine was known for his brilliant songs and thoughtful lyrics, among them his song, “Hello in There.” It's a stark, relatable song about loneliness, growing old, and the passage of time. The song crossed my mind as I was riding my bike today on the well paved path along the River Des Peres (technically, it's a storm drain, but you take what you can get,) in St. Louis, Missouri, my hometown. Here are Prine's lyrics from the last verse:
And spot some hollow ancient eyes
Please don't just pass 'em by and stare
As if you didn't care
Say, "Hello in there, hello"
Have you ever had that moment where you're not sure if you are going to make eye contact or not with a passerby? For me, I have three levels of possible engagement: the nod, the wave, or the hello. On occasion I just employ the head down method, sensing that maybe the other person desires a bubble of privacy. But my preference is the “hello.” I like to think it's my way of acknowledging the basic connection between all of us humans. But there is definitely something taboo these days about that simple "hello."
What if I can restore a tiny glimmer of hope in humanity with just one "hey there" from across the path? (It's asking a lot, but who knows?) Maybe the person on the other side of the sidewalk is waiting for me to break the fleeting ice between us. Perhaps it's like that old addage about the snake, that they're “more scared of me than I am of them.” It's often too easy to fall in line with a culture of mistrust (sometimes rightfully so) and just keep my head down. I'd rather take the risk and reach out (not physically, of course) and bridge that gap between us, even if only for a moment. Often times, I get the sense that the other person is glad to have been acknowledged, and happy to see a smile. (Side note: if your Creep-o-meter is going off, employ the head down method.)
That's why I love Prine's lyrics. They really say to me that we all share something in common, that we all have the experience of being human, regardless of our differences. It seems to me that we often view life as something that happens outside of us, rather than an experience that emanates from within us. It makes me want to shout, "hey you, I see you! The you inside of you!" That's why I think sometimes we should take a chance, make eye-contact, and just say, “hello, in there.” And of course, listen to more John Prine records.