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Wow, nice hair!

February 6, 2009

I walked into the locker room at my health club after a workout yesterday where a woman about my age was just finishing drying her hair. It was long and brown, with the thick, shining swing shine of a much younger woman’s. 

Then I did something I suppose you could call somewhat unusual. Passing this total stranger on the way to my locker, I said aloud:

“Wow, what gorgeous hair.”

The woman looked a little embarassed at my comment, and slightly startled.  At the same time she seemed pleased, as she kept her eyes averted while murmuring that she didn’t get a chance to wash it every day.

It’s the kind of thing my mother would have done. A generous and impulsive woman who sometimes drives me crazy with her spontaneity, my mother has always been given to random acts of kindness – blurting out compliments left and right to complete strangers when captivated by a particularly cute stroller-bound baby, an unusual name on a checkout clerk’s name tag, or the silk scarf on an elderly woman on a city bus. As a teenager this would embarass me no end.  But here I was, the age my mother was then, blurting out “nice hair!” to a total stranger in her underwear.

Maybe it had something to do with the forty minutes I had just spent on the elliptical trainer, chatting with a friend on the machine alongside mine.  This woman, who has three sons as I do, had been telling me that her lawyer husband was about to be laid off.  “I’m probably going to have to look for work myself,” she said.

It’s something I’ve been hearing a lot of that these days.  Only yesterday I noticed a good many stores on my town’s Main Street boarded up, since no one I know seems to have much money to spend shopping.

But it occured to me, as I watched the woman in the locker room give a final, self-conscious brush of her hair, that it had cost me nothing to give this gift of a compliment to a stranger.  Not only was a compliment free, but it had felt good even to me,  just to say the words aloud.

Come to think of it, there are quite a few things that don’t cost a cent these days.  An apology, to keep a friendship afloat. Rubber tipping to keep my gums healthy (as my periodontist reminds me, when I grumble about his bill). Coming up behind someone to tuck in the label that sometimes escapes the back of a shirt neckline – a sure sign, I always think, of a person who lives alone.  Or having a stranger come up behind me, to tuck in mine.

That’s just the start of my list.  I’ll be working to come up with more.  I can’t think of a more worthwhile project – or a better time for it.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 7, 2009 8:24 am

    I know how it makes my day when something I’ve done (worn, written, spoken, you-name-it) gets noticed and appreciated. Raymond Carver writes about the “small, good thing” in a short story of his. You’re so right. The world needs more and more of these.

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