Last evening, I encountered a very friendly man. He was so friendly I was taken aback. In appearance, he looked like any 40-something “average Joe” working man. I was about to enter the supermarket when he greeted me with a hearty “Good evening sir. I hope you’re doing well.”
Such a level of friendliness from a stranger is unusual, even from a small-town Nebraskan. We tend to be more reserved. A smile and a nod of the head are the usual greeting between men who don’t know each other.
The cheerfulness of the friendly man reminded me of the cheeriness of panhandlers or of confidence men, so I became watchful while returning his greeting.
Was he going to ask me for something? Did he have a scheme he wanted me to buy into? Worse, was he going to entangle me in a sales pitch for his religion?
The friendly man did none of these things. He and I separated and simply went about selecting grocery items from the store shelves. As he pushed his cart through the aisles, I heard the friendly man greet store clerks and various shoppers with the same hearty greeting.
At the end of my short errand while waiting at the check-out line, I noticed the friendly man had also finished and was directly behind me in the queue. As I placed my items on the conveyor belt, he flashed a smile but didn’t say anything. After I finished paying and grabbed the bags containing my food, the friendly man wished me a good evening one final time.
In this day and age of cynicism, selfishness, and hate, people like the friendly man, who are not buttering you up in order to get something from you, are exceedingly rare. In fact, as I earlier listened to him greeting random grocery shoppers as he went about his errand, I wondered if there was something wrong with him.
However, the more I think about his easy smile and pleasant demeanor, the more I feel there might be something wrong with the rest of us. I could see the friendly man wasn’t being friendly as some sort of social experiment. He certainly was not a con man. His friendliness radiated spontaneously and sincerely from his heart.
His friendliness and kindness seemed so unusual that the memory of it still brings a smile to my face and makes me feel warm inside. His kindness was contagious. I can close my eyes and visualize how he looked and how he displayed his kind behavior. My reaction can be summed up by saying I was flabbergasted.
I don’t know if the friendly man is a Buddhist, but in retrospect his words and actions are as kind hearted as those of a monk. The encounter was so moving that I decided to consult the subject of kindness in the Itivuttaka (Words of the Buddha). I found this excerpt from Sutta 27:
“Bhikkhus (monks), whatever kinds of worldly merit there are, all are not worth one sixteenth part of the heart-deliverance of loving-kindness; in shining and beaming and radiance the heart-deliverance of loving-kindness far excels them.”
The friendly man’s behavior was certainly a pure manifestation of the power of deep, abiding kindness of character. He spread kindness wherever he went last night. His innocent friendliness probably inspired all the shoppers and clerks he encountered last evening.
The friendly man is certainly a rare and wonderful treasure.