So I set out for my morning walk/run on what turned out to be this beautiful day. I turned on my favorite playlist, consisting of all Mumford and Sons songs obviously, arrived at the one and only Inwood Hill Park, set my timer, and started to pick up the pace. Not even two minutes into the jog, as I'm admiring the perfect weather, the beautiful sky, and thinking about how great God is, I came to this man. The man was probably in his late forties, perhaps early fifties. He was a friendly-looking, very put together man. Judging by his attire and his physique, he was probably a regular at the park and clearly an avid exercise enthusiast. He looked to be in between reps of some sort of fitness plan that he probably developed himself. (I think this because he looked determined and motivated, yet also at peace, suggesting to me that he was acting on his own motives and intentions rather than someone else's...yes, these are the things I think about.) Anyway, so just before I jogged past him, he looked at me, smiled, and stuck his right thumb up with a nod of approval.
I wish I could describe the look in his eyes as he made this gesture of approval. It was as if he was saying to me, "Great job. Keep it up. I'm proud of you." Now, I know what you're thinking: "Deanna, he was hitting on you." To that I reply, "No, I really don't think he was." You see, if I was casting a commercial for an insurance company, I would hire this guy to do the advertising. If I was casting a Budweiser commercial, he wouldn't get a callback. You know what I mean? I mean, it was almost eerie. It felt like I suddenly stepped into the movie The Truman Show. Or The Stepford Wives. Or maybe even the Twilight Zone. You see, when he looked me in the eye, it was as if he looked at ME. Not just a random person running by. He looked at ME, and said, albeit with his thumb, "Deanna, I am so proud of you." I imagine it was the same feeling a little eight-year-old boy has when, after his basketball game, his father, whose presence had been closely sensed and monitored by the boy during the game, comes over, squats down, looks him in the eye and puts his hand on the boy's back and says, "Good game, son. I'm proud of you." Or that feeling a little girl has when, after her dance recital, she runs out to see her mother and the first thing the girl notices are the tears in her mother's eyes. That feeling of pure...pride. (Do you like the gender stereotyped examples? My women's studies professor would not).
So as this man stuck his thumb up at me and gave me the look of encouragement, my heart filled with such joy and thankfulness. How nice of this man to do that. How nice it was to get a nod of encouragement. How nice of God to give me a love note in the form of a thumb of a stranger.
I began to think about how funny the gesture of a thumb up was. I don't know that I've ever passed a stranger and had him give me a thumb. What an odd, but appropriately encouraging thing to do. And then I began to think about how I can do that for others more often. I thought about it for a good amount of the rest of the day, in fact. How can I encourage people in their walks of life? Or jogs, for that matter. Or for some, sprints, or treks. Or endless climbs. Or falls.
It occurred to me that I try to be very conscious of my encouraging behavior when I am teaching dance. In fact I decided in high school, due to the impact of my favorite history teacher, that I wanted to be the kind of teacher that made my students joyously crave those words of encouragement. Mr. Paris showed me that if you show how passionate you are about the subject matter, how worthy of respect you are as a teacher, and how potent is the art of accomplishment and self-discipline, you can help others see how powerful they are as individuals and how empowering it is to hear someone congratulate them on their journeys.
But do I do this outside of teaching? I don't know that I do. It seems like the only thumbs up I give are on Pandora. Or my "likes" on Facebook. What if I could make those "likes" a little bit more meaningful? For instance, what if we could classify the "likes" on Facebook into different categories and under each post were different types of "likes." For instance, one "like" would be, "Haha! That's really funny!" This one would be used a lot, I think. Another, more sentimental type of "like" could be, "Wow...this really meant a lot to me. Thanks for sharing!" Or even more so, "My heart needed to hear this today. Thank you for healing my soul." Or like the insurance/exercise guy in the park today, "Wow, Deanna. I am so very, very sincerely proud of you. You keep going even when it feels like it's just too hard."
So I think I'm going to start giving people a thumbs up. No, literally. I'm going to start putting a thumb up and giving a nod of approval with my head. At least I'll try it. I'm sure someone will think I'm making some pop culture reference. (Ok, it's me...no one will think that.) Or some will probably think I'm just being sarcastic. And lots of people will probably think that I've totally lost it. (Keep your comments to yourself).
Or maybe I'll just try to at least be more aware of others needing a little bit of encouragement. Because, fortunately for me, I was having a pretty great day already. The sun was shining, I was energized on coffee. I had just taught a class full of enthusiastic adults who for some reason want to wake up early enough to take a 10am ballet class. And to get the thumbs up from a random stranger on the street was more than the cherry on top: it gave me an extra dose of encouragement, put tears of thankfulness in my eyes, and it was enough to make me desire to be a better person. Can you imagine what this would have meant to someone who might have NEEDED that thumb today???
On a side note...oddly enough, later tonight I decided to go for a walk because it was just soooo nice out. So I'm walking around my neighborhood, thinking about about this very subject of the guy giving me the thumb, and, I pass a group of about five guys (this time these are the Budweiser callback guys) and one of them looks at me, and...I KID YOU NOT...sticks his thumb up and says, "Good job, girl. Keep it up." I cracked up soooooo much he had no idea what hit him. And as I passed him I turned around, smiled at him, and stuck my right thumb up. I guess maybe he's already paying it forward.
So this day gets two thumbs up. (What's up with everyone giving thumbs up????)