I moved to Washington, D.C., in 2009 right after graduation—and also right after the economic crisis of 2008. I ventured into the world with enough optimism and self-doubt to make the transition into being an adult complicated at best and crippling at worst. To get myself out of these fogs, I would often go for longs runs that would inevitably take me to the Georgetown neighborhood in D.C., which I’m lucky enough to live within a mile of today.
On a particularly hard day, I had stopped to take a break and looked up to see an older gentleman sitting behind a large window, glass of wine in hand, who smiled and waved to me. It felt comforting. I waved back and continued on my run.
I had completely forgotten about the encounter until years later, when I started a new job that changed my commute home. At a stop sign, I looked to my left and noticed the same window, and the same man from years ago who had waved hello. Again, glass in hand, he smiled and waved. This became a daily ritual and one to which I always looked forward.
As I was preparing to leave work early one afternoon, I felt a pull to leave a note for my friend in the window. I stopped for a card and some flowers, and wrote something like: Thank you for the daily wave and the reminder to pause and enjoy what’s around you. I dropped the items on his doorstep and turned to go when his nurse opened the door and asked me if I’d like to come in, as it was his birthday! And so, over the next hour and two glasses of wine, we chatted.
He asked about my career, and I explained that I worked for an architecture and design firm—he replied that he was an architect! He shared some fascinating stories about some of his most famous projects (and clients) and then asked where I graduated. When I told him “Gettysburg College,” he gave a big laugh and said, “Oh, sure! I designed that library!”
And so it was that one random afternoon I celebrated the birthday of Hugh Newell Jacobsen—my friend in the window, world-renowned architect, and designer of Musselman Library.
We continued to wave to each other every day at the stop sign. Until one day, not long ago, when the shutters to his window were closed. I think of Mr. Jacobsen often, and how a gesture as small as a wave—a “Gettysburg hello,” if you will—became such a comfort to me, and how that wave later led to a magical afternoon of serendipity.
It’s easy to believe that in order to Do Great Work, one must do something BIG. But what is “great”? To me, greatness can be found in the smallest gestures—a wave, a card, a surprise left on a neighbor’s porch. These are all opportunities to connect with each other—you just need to be kind enough to wave and curious enough to say hello.
by Laura Johnson Stanton ’09
Photo courtesy of Laura Johnson Stanton ’09