Beauty has her way of showing up in the most unlikely places. Oil slick rainbows floating atop cavernous pothole puddles. Heavy weathered doors with rusted patina door knockers. Delicate purple flowers escaping forsaken warehouses. Street graffiti that gives back to the city.

Welcome to Philadelphia; where the grit and the magic intertwine.

Five years it’s been, and still I’m puzzled (and mesmerized) by the juxtapositions of the city.

Fact: Philadelphia is a big, old, northeastern city. The pace is fast. The people are frank. The seasons are severe.

It’s also delightfully diverse.

Sacred historical sights border menacing neighborhoods. Age, education and beliefs are all over the map. Cheesesteaks are more of a pastime than a food. Sports fans are (at the very least) fanatical and locals don’t give a wooder ice what you think about them. The people are proud and fiercely loyal. (Which is wonderfully refreshing, yet challenging as an outsider.)

Clearly, when I moved to Philadelphia I did not expect a welcome wagon to greet me at the corner with a beer and a cheesesteak (or explain that you order it wit onions and wiz). I expected a long, curious, get-to-know-you phase followed by budding friendships. I did not expect to be ignored.

The unwritten rule passed down to me was: Pass a stranger (or colleague) and look away.

Not my plan, but I followed suit. Mostly out of respect, but partly to fit in.

I was good about minding my own business, avoiding small talk and steering clear of direct eye contact. (Which is really a lot of effort. Hint. Hint.)

Fact: I was miserable. I isolated myself. I didn’t make friends and I became afraid. What seemed like a simple geographical difference, suddenly became personal.

I know (now) that it wasn’t about me, but when you believe a story long enough it becomes true. And so it was.

People ignored me. They passed. They did not say hello. I retreated and pretended that I didn’t care. (Of course I did.) Eventually, I hit a breaking point.

Why would I listen to some made-up, unwritten rule that started from fiction?

Who am I not to say hello? To walk past people and say nothing? To wait for them to speak first? Have I forgotten what I stand for?

Everyone deserves to be acknowledged and recognized. Why would I give up a piece of myself to make other people feel comfortable or happy?

So here I am in this big city. I am not alone. I say hello. It feels different.

Fact: We’re in this together.

We’re all human. We have the same needs. We want to be happy. We want to feel connected. The new written rule (as of now) is: It’s the responsibility of each and every one of us to acknowledge one another. We are responsible for hosting the planet. Say hello!

You want a recipe for happiness? Ask yourself, is the story true? (And if it is, do you want to believe it.) Does it fit? Does it feel good? What’s important… family, work, love, travel, friends, animals, expression, creativity… ?

It probably revolves around connection. Whether it’s to your authentic self or the people around you.

Misery for me is shutting down, closing off and disconnecting. I thought I was being respectful, but I’d lost sight of what was important to me… you.

Sure it’s nice when you call me or acknowledge something sweet. I like that. But the second I decide to wait around for your approval, get permission to speak or assess my self-worth based on something you did or didn’t say is the second I’m going to have a very rough go. My responsibility is to be authentically, absolutely and totally me. (It’s yours, too.) Mine just comes with a hella-lotta hellos.

Why do I say ‘hello?’ Honor myself and the people around me.

I’m happy to say hello, first. Now all I see are hearts like me living in an old, northeastern city filled with pride and joy.

Beauty is what you want to see. Let yourself be drawn into the rare and undiscovered loveliness just outside your comfort zone. There’s something special there waiting for you.

Hello Philly. Hello you.


Image Thanks Maser, Ireland
(Urban Lover and Graffiti Artist)
Note: This mural was created in Dublin, not Philadelphia. I simply adore it. It speaks 1,000 words to how I feel about the streets of Philadelphia. Hello Maser. Hello Dublin!