Let me tell you about Pieter, and the power of a joyful welcome.
Pieter joined our church choir while I was a well established soprano. He was older than me. That is, he was no longer middle aged, but he's spry, cheerful, and active, so it's hard to say "old", just older than me. We were glad to have him, he has an excellent tenor, and gawd knows our church choir can always use more male voices. (Of course, it would have been better if he had been a bass. Who doesn't need more bass? But we were glad to have him anyway.) Beyond his voice, he was engaged, reliable, and cheerful. Every organization needs more people like that.
The thing about Pieter is that, inexplicably, he was always glad to see me. Me. Personally. Shortly after he joined he started to seek me out at the church social hour. (Social hour is like coffee hour, except inclusive of non-coffee drinkers too, 'cause that's how we roll). Most people just say "hello" and smile, and that's nice, that's expected. I'm cool with that. When Pieter found me he didn't just say "Hi".
Pieter would greet me with remarkable enthusiasm. His whole face would light up with a big smile, he would open his arms wide, "April! So good to see you!" and offer a hug. He never forced a hug, just opened his arms to welcome one.
The first time he did this I was actually a little startled. I don't remember anyone ever being so glad to see me. (OK, maybe my dog.) I remember thinking "What does he want?" But he seemed safe and well intentioned, so I stepped in for that hug. It was an excellent decision, because seeing Pieter at church has become something that never ceases to make me smile. Nearly every time I saw him after that he repeated his sincere and energetic greeting. "Hello April! So good to see you!" Hug. Sometimes he followed up with a compliment "What would our choir be with out you?" or an inquiry "How's the family?" He introduced me to his wife Mary Pat. He started to tell me about his grandchildren. I learned a little more about his life and history. We started to become friends.
Although it doesn't seem like it's been that long, all this happened over the course of years. I met Pieter while I was still in the church choir. I dropped out of choir to do my year of cancer treatment in 2012, over 4 years ago, and I've never really gone back. I can't reliably stay up that late and still drive home, and too often the kids' school schedules things on choir night. I miss choir, but not enough to miss my kids activities, or enough to stay up and drive home once a week so late. We don't sing together anymore. I only see him at church social hour.
But still, every time he sees me, Pieter still greets me like a long lost friend. Which, now, he is. His joyful greeting, open heart, and willingness to be vulnerable has given me not only his friendship, but that of his wife's. I look forward to hearing about their holiday plans. I worry when I see he's been sick or hurt. I'm glad when he gets better. I care about him.
I didn't, and still don't, understand why he started greeting me that way. I liked Pieter well
enough, but only knew him as a choir member. He wasn't even in my
section. We'd never had a heart to heart. For some reason, he just decided that he was always glad to see me. Or, he acted as if he was always glad to see me, which, from my perspective, was exactly the same thing. His repeated and sincere greeting created a friendship where there was none before.
I don't know if it was hard for Pieter to do that. Did he have to think about being outgoing and engaging or did it just come naturally? Was it even conscious? Does it matter?
What magic. What power. What a gift he gave to me.