The first thing I noticed about the boy on the Metro was his insistence on saying "hi" to other riders. "Sir! Sir! Sir!" he would say until the passerby snapped out of his personal fog to notice.
The boy (young man, really) was wearing a Washington Nationals polo shirt. A passenger who sat next to him asked (after being enticed to say "hi" back) if he worked for the team. The boy said he did as he asked the man to untangle his ear phone cord from his mp3 player. The boy appeared mentally challenged, although I'm not sure that's the right term anymore. He began rocking back and forth in his seat. But the most persistent thing about him was the way he would demand a greeting from riders walking by when they got on the train.
At first this was odd. But less odd as I watched. Soon, it was the way in which everyone walking by worked so hard at ignoring the boy that seemed the strange thing. As if saying a simple "hello" would violate their carefully guarded fortress of privacy.
I work hard to guard my own personal space. It's a matter of self-preservation in a city that bombards you with constant loud and annoying grabs for attention. I can't (or won't) stop to give every homeless person my loose change, listen to every sidewalk appeal to save the planet or focus on frequent Metro announcements that the trains aren't working again or that we should ask people if "that's your bag." Usually I'm shielded in a tightly-wound cocoon of my own anxieties designed to keep my worries in and other people out.
Like a friendly young man who just wants to offer a hello.
I'll continue to keep my shields up against the multitude who demand my attention because they want something from me. But the boy on the Metro taught me that I need to make an exception for those who only want to offer a little dash of friendliness to my day.