In Primary 6 in St Patrick’s Primary School in ‘The Meadow’ in Mr McGuigan’s class we had a brief lesson one morning from Mr Cranney – the school principal. He explained to the 30 odd youngsters in the room how the greeting Hello was derived from the Roman greeting ‘Hail You.’ Isn’t it wonderful how certain facts stored away in your brain ‘surface’ every so often and not on their own, they arrive with all the additional colour and detail of place, time and surroundings.
Why do I tell you this wayward fact? Well sitting in Mass recently in St Catherine’s Fr Ralph’s sermon was on the ‘Visitation’ of Mary to her cousin Elizabeth. Mary’s greeting was that warm it caused Elizabeth’s baby to leap in her womb. A real greeting from the heart that gave joy to the recipient and to the giver.
I started to wonder about in today’s world how many (if any) of our greetings today convey warmth, lift the spirits of the recipient and gave all cause to smile? In our modern world full of convenience and immediacy we fail to take the time and pleasure to greet each other, to communicate even on the most basic of terms. How many times when meeting people, even passing strangers on the street do we even fail to acknowledge their presence or even greet them with a smile? Instead, we ignore any verbal exchange and avoid eye contact for fear that we may have to respond. It is said that everyone knew the Irish immigrants in England because they would say hello to strangers in the street. A tradition they brought from home.
In some ways our society has not evolved, instead we have gone backwards to our prehistoric times and instead of greeting a stranger or exchanging remarks with a visitor we often grunt or throw out a ‘hi.’ The simple word hello (which is a much abbreviated form of greeting) is at time too much of a chore for use to use.
If we look to the Irish language, standard greetings are beautiful verbal works of art. One person would say Dia duit (God be with you) and the other would reply Dia is Muire duit (God and Mary be with you) – such simplicity that conveys a greeting, a blessing and true Christian warmth.
In the Hindu tradition they use the beautiful verbal and physical greeting of the 2 hands joined in front and saying the word namaste – literally ‘greetings to you.’
A greeting is one of the most important and yet simple things we could all do every day. Greet God in our prayers, thoughts and deeds. Make eye contact, smile and offer a warm hello to everyone you meet. Yours could be the only warm voice that person hears all day. Your greeting could make someone’s day, lift their spirits and it will certainly make yours.
When COVID-19 is all over we can add to this greeting and extend a hand of friendship, an open palm expressing our shared belonging, a sign of friendship, peace, welcoming and hospitality.
“Speak tenderly; let there be kindness in your face, in your eyes, in your smile, in the warmth of your greeting. Always have a cheerful smile. Don’t only give your care, but give your heart as well.”