I was out on the Silver Comet Trail last Friday, grinding out about 35 miles on my bike. It was a beautiful day, crystal clear, and warm when I started (hot when I finished.) I rode out 17.5 miles, and turned back. There’s a park bench at about the 17 mile mark, where I will often stop and take a short break, pull my phone out and check email, guzzle water, and catch my breath.

As I pulled away from my break, headed back to the trailhead, I immediately rode over a bridge that passes above a railroad track. (For the record, the Silver Comet Trail is one of the Rails-to-Trails projects that has turned an old railroad bed into a hiking/walking/biking/etc trail.) As I rode over the bridge, I glanced to my right and saw a train approaching. Instinctively, I raised my right arm and waved. Seconds later, I heard the train’s horn blast twice in return greeting.

I was immediately transported back to the days when we would be travelling on a bus, either on a sports trip or a Boy Scout trip, and we would pass an 18-wheeler. Inevitably, whoever was in the back of the bus would pump his arm up and down, and the trucker would honk his air horn in return. Call it nostalgia, call it old-fashioned, call it whatever you want. I miss those days, I miss the simple courtesy that I experienced last Friday, and that we used to enjoy when travelling.

Then I recalled the experience I had in Chicago about ten years ago. I was there for three weeks to begin work on my doctorate, and rented a room abiyt 3/4 mile from where our classes met. The first couple of days of class, I would walk to the building, instinctively greeting the people I encountered on the sidewalk. Nothing fancy, just a simple “Mornin'” as I passed them.

No one returned my greeting.

I was stunned. I could not believe it, and finally came to grips with the fact that I have been raised and spent my entire life in the deep South, where you are polite to people, even the people you don’t like. I made it my mission to get people to return my greeting. I would sneak up on them from behind, or wait as they approached me for the last possible second, then all but shout out, “HEY! GOOD MORNING! HOW YOU DOIN’?”

People would jump out of their socks. But by the end of the three weeks, since I was seeing the same people every day, they were anticipating my greeting, and returning it, even some with a smile.

One afternoon, having made a purchase of Kathryn (who was off at camp over her birthday), I trekked to an Office Depot in the Chicago suburbes to ship the gift to her. As I was engaging the clerk in completing the transaction, she said, “You’re not from around here.”

“What gave it away?” I asked.

“Your accent,” she replied.

I laid it on thick: “Aw, now, Ma’am, I don’t have any accent!”

We both laughed, and then she said, “That’s not all. You’re nice. People around here are not nice.”

My heart sank. I could not believe it.

A few years later, Kathryn and I were in Chicago, and I was showing her around the places I used to hang out. We were walking down the sidewalk, and she said, “Dad, you weren’t kidding.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You’re speaking to people, and they are not speaking back.” She had been wating me greet folks instinctively, and receive nothing in return.

So whatever became of common courtesy? Holding doors for people (not only ladies), stepping aside to make way for someone carrying a bundle (heaven forbid you offer to help), giving your place in line to someone else, waving, speaking, simply being polie. When was the last time you looked a server in the eye when you were out eating, called them by name, and thanked them? Do you realize when you do that, you validate their very existence?

I can be rude, let me tell you. I can get in someone’s face with the best of them. I try not to, and it takes a lot to push me to that point. But people are subjected to abuse all day long, and all they need is one person to be polite, to show courtesy, and you can make their day.

Case in point: I had to call our home HVAC provider today. the upstairs unit they installed in November is not doing what I think it should. I asked for a service call, and the lady on the other end of the phone, after geiing name and address from me, started laughing. I asked what I’d said that was so funny.

“There’s a note in your file here that says, ‘Chuck Roberts does not pitch hissy fits.'” She kept laughing.

I recalled a few months ago when I’d been waiting at home for the semi-annual maintenance visit (they would come between 2 and 4), and they called to explain that the technician had been delayed at another call–he would make it that day, but it would be late, or they could reschedule. The lady was very apologetic. That’s when I told her that I am not the sort to pitch hissy fits, that there was no problem, and we rescheduled. She obviously put that in my electronic file!

I have this philosophy that you are more likely to make points with folks on the phone if you try and brighten their day, than if you yell and scream. There’s proof; a note in my file, that suddenly got me moved to an expedited service call, all because of common courtesy.

Be polite today; show common courtesy; you never know who is watching, and who you may impact.

Peachtree Presbyterian Church (the church I serve as a Pastor) has a pretty big steeple. As the largest Presbyterian in North America, that kinda stands to reason, I guess. Interestingly enough, the steeple was built when the Sanctuary was constructed in the late 1950s, when the church was significantly smaller. Now, decades and many thousands of members later, we’re in the same Sanctuary, expanded and added to several times, but the same steeple.

  Anyway, there is this red-tailed hawk that has a nest somewhere in the neighborhood, and it  seems to have an affection for our steeple. At the top of the steeple is a cross, and many days, that hawk is perched on one of the arms of the cross. I suspect it sits there watching for a squirrel, or a rabbit, or a chipmonk to swoop down and grab for lunch. We have had numerous conversations over the last couple of years about the image of a hawk on the cross, when the dominant avian image for the Christian Church tends to be a dove. There’s a sermon in there somewhere, but that will come another day.

  A few minutes ago I had to run out to my SUV to get something I’d inadvertently left there. As I walked out, I happened to glance to the steeple, and saw the hawk swirling around it. I stopped and watched for a moment to see if it would perch, and it did. It looked regal, majestic.

  Then this other, smaller, black bird with white spots on its wings started flying around, and I wondered what was unfolding. The bird (sorry I am not a bird watcher, and cannot ID the bird)  flew around the hawk a couple of times, then flew close enough that it hit the haw’s tail feathers (I watched as the hawk flinched), then flew around a bit more, and landed on the top of the cross. The bird sat there for a moment, then released and flew back, hit the hawk again, enough to make it leave its perch and fly off. Then that rascally little bird flew around, making diving attacks at the hawk, hitting it again at least once, before it flew away.

I could not believe it. I expected the bigger hawk to turn around and obliterate the bird. It simply flew around for a moment. I grabbed what I needed from the Chuckwagon (that’s what I call what I drive), and came back in to the office.

Sometimes the little guy wins.

  I don’t know what’s going on in your life right now, and I know that many times the things we deal with seem, or feel, so much larger than our own selves, our lives, our ability to handle it. But just remember this story, and that little bird. Sometimes the little guy wins.