I got in a little staredown the other day with a guy walking his dog past my house. I was moving a sprinkler on my lawn, and he was standing directly across the street, waiting for his German shepherd to relieve itself on a tree in the park strip.
I don’t have a quarrel with people letting their dogs pee in public. My eyes just locked in on his because I thought he was glaring at me.
“What’s your problem, buddy?” I silently grumbled across the well-groomed suburban landscape when I first looked up and saw him looking my way. “You don’t like people watering their sidewalk? Well, you try getting the sprinkler to hit this dry corner of the lawn without a few drops touching the cement.”
Yeah, this or something very much like it ran through my head as the two of us exchanged glances. How I presumed to know what this man was thinking is beyond me.
Well, right about the time I was ready to look away in annoyance, something happened — something that made me feel both stupid and relieved at the same time. This gentleman I’ve never met before gave a little wave, just a tiny flip of the wrist to say hello, and I realized the thoughts I’d placed in his head were all in my head instead. Pure imagination. I waved back, and we both went happily about our business.
Wow. The mind is a curious thing. I’m ashamed to say mine works like this sometimes, but there is no denying it does, and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one guilty of such negative, unfounded assumptions. We’re all so quick to perceive slight and imagine judgmental thoughts from others where there are none — especially in these contentious times with people bickering in public about everything from face masks to parking spots to hat choices.
Luckily, there is a way for passing strangers to dispel tensions before they build up to day-destroying levels or worse, viral videos, and a lot of locals like my dog-walking neighbor are adept at it. It’s that little wave of the hand that not only says “Howdy” but announces in the most gentle and unassuming way, “I’m OK; you’re OK.”
This gesture is so prevalent among people in these parts, you might even call it the “Cache Valley wave.” It’s most commonly employed between passing motorists on side streets and rural roads, but I’ve seen and used the wave myself in many other settings, even grocery store aisles.
A recent visitor to The Herald Journal office who moved here from out of state told me she was stunned the first couple of times she received unprompted waves from total strangers in Cache Valley.
“My goodness, that’s not something you’d ever see in California,” she said. “It made me feel like I’d moved to a different planet.”
As hand gestures go, I submit that this little micro-wave, if you will, is the most powerful signal one can make toward a stranger. And it’s the slightness of the action that makes it so effective.
We’re not talking about an enthusiastic wave like you use when hailing a friend from afar or the carefully choreographed hand movement of a pageant winner on a parade float. You just flick the wrist a bit or fan your fingers out from wherever your arm happens to be at the time — on a steering wheel, a shopping cart, a pair of bicycle handlebars, holding a box, holding a garden hose.
Once accomplished, there’s no need to speak or even smile. The wave works its magic and you simply move on with your life, free of any lingering antagonism over face masks or anything else.
“But what about giving someone the middle finger?” I hear some of you asking. “Certainly that’s the most forceful hand gesture someone can make.”
Most forceful, maybe, but not most significant. A little wave connects people as opposed to dividing them, and it can also diffuse any ill-will, even outright hostility, in an instant.
“It’s all good,” the fingers subtly signal from one person to another.
The power of the wave is most evident in traffic. We flash a hand to thank other drivers for letting us in a lane, but more than that, road rage rarely escalates when one of the two drivers in a situation waves to either indicate they are sorry for a driving flub or they know the other messed up and it’s forgiven.
There is a big difference between rude driving and simply committing a driving error. Intentionally aggressive drivers deserve that other hand gesture, although I don’t recommend using it; drivers who simply make a mistake should get the Cache Valley wave.
When fellow drivers foul up the protocol at four-way stop signs, catch themselves in ill-advised lane changes or commit any number of other driving miscues, forgive it immediately and give them a little wave to let them know it’s OK. They’ll wave back, then you both can go on with the business of raising children, pursuing careers, enjoying the weather or, who knows, maybe even attaining enlightenment.
Buddha was a waver. There are statues of the spiritual giant raising one hand in a fashion very much like locals do. Of course, many of his hand gestures have been described by followers as something much deeper than mere salutations. In Buddhism, Hinduism and Yoga, such hand positions are known as “mudras” and are said to impart profound meaning and activate unseen energies.
So what I’m calling a Buddha wave could actually be the “Vitara Mudra,” a raised hand signifying the transmission of teachings, or the slightly different “Karana Mudra,” which is said to ward off evil and negative thoughts.
If the latter, you have to say this lines up perfectly with the function of the Cache Valley wave. One quick little motion of the hand, and it’s so long strife and animosity.
If you need any more evidence of the power of the wave, look no further than another Cache Valley example provided by “Bicycle Brent” Carpenter. Brent, who for years has been waving at everyone he passes on the street, is probably the best-known and most-loved individual in the Logan area, yet he holds no lofty church title, serves on no nonprofit boards, is not known as an eloquent speaker and likely has no idea how to “network.”
Brent’s waves are a bit more spirited than what I’m calling the Cache Valley wave, but he’s in a league of his own. For the rest of us, just a little flip of the wrist and flutter of the fingers will do.
After finishing this column on Friday, I learned that Brent is in the hospital. His sister has urged well-wishers to send him cards in care of Terrace Grove, 345 N. 200 West, Logan, UT 84321.