June 14, 2019

Joyful Witness / Kimberly Pohovey

Warm greeting has the power to transform others

Kimberly PohoveyThe first time I encountered her, I stepped onto the elevator at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis and was met with her characteristic greeting of “How are you, my precious?” I was taken aback by her humble presence and stature as she is even shorter than I. But the immediate feeling I experienced from this meeting—and every one since then—is an overwhelming sense of warmth, and the feeling that I am loved.

You probably assume I know this woman well. The truth is, I don’t. I doubt she even knows my name, even though she acts as if she intimately knows me every time I see her in the hallways or again on the elevator. Each time I spy her approaching, I am immediately flooded with that same wonderful sense of warmth.

One day last summer, I asked my then 16-year-old son Ben how his day had been as I picked him up from our parish’s Summer Bible Camp at which he had been volunteering. He replied the typical “good.” However, he immediately became animated when he described to me someone he met that day.

His story started at the youth center when a nun entered and looked as if she was lost. She said she was there to help with the Summer Bible Camp and did not know where she should report. Ben offered to walk her over to the school cafeteria, the epicenter of that day’s activities. He told me how kind she was, asking all about him the entire walk.

“And Mom, she called me precious,” he said. I could tell by his enthusiasm in relaying the story that he was affected by the chance meeting. I asked him if she wore a habit and an entirely white outfit. He replied “yes.” Then I asked him if she was shorter than me. Yes again.

I told him I was sure he had just met Sister Loretto Emenogu who works at the Catholic Center, like I do. She is the archdiocesan mission educator and a member of the Nigeria-based Daughters of Mary Mother of Mercy. I told him about my encounters with her as well. We reveled in our shared experience and admitted how special she made each of us feel. My affection for her grew as I realized she could even make a teenage boy feel God’s presence.

When I was in college years ago, I was similarly affected by one of the Jesuit priests on staff. When walking around campus, he would greet every student he passed with his characteristic “Hi, saint!” Jesuit Father Al Bischoff is a beloved figure on Xavier University’s campus in Cincinnati. He is kind and wise. However, I believe it is his signature greeting that most endeared him to every student he met or even simply passed by.

These two possess the rare gift of exuding Christ’s love with just a smile and brief greeting.

Could it really be that simple—to make people feel special and loved? The answer is yes, and no. Through just a smile, direct eye contact and a warm greeting, we have the power to change someone’s attitude, their self-worth, even their whole day. But how many times do we miss the opportunity to acknowledge someone?

While their approach may come easily to them based on their personalities, or even the fact that they are religious, I believe Sister Loretto and Father Al must have initially made an intentional decision to make this effort. And somewhere along the line, it became a habit, and they adopted their signature greeting.

Maybe it wouldn’t have the same effect if you or I started calling folks “precious” and “saint,” but the world would surely be a better place if we each tried a little harder to concentrate on making others feel good about themselves.

Don’t let another day go by without warmly greeting the people you encounter on your journey. What will be your signature greeting? I’m going to try out “Hi, beautiful!” for size.

(Kimberly Pohovey is a member of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis. She is the director of mission advancement for Archdiocesan Education Initiatives.)

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