I think about him when I’m out walking, and I wave and smile to strangers driving past. Most don’t wave back which used to bother me. But Johnny Barnes changed that.
For more than 30 years, he spent most weekday mornings in the middle of Bermuda’s busiest roundabout, Crow Lane Circle. His arms waved in perpetual motion to passing commuters, school kids, and tourists on vacation. He blew kisses and shouted rapid-fire I love you’s to every person. For six hours a day, rain or shine, with only Christmas or sick days off, he was there.
I met Johnny nearly thirty years ago when I was a travel reporter doing stories about his beautiful island home. I watched him from a distance before approaching.
He was around 70 then, with a bushy white beard and hair like cotton beneath a straw hat. Deep, well-earned smile lines framed his eyes, and he had the kind of grin that made you want to smile back. But showing up at around 4:00 am, waving and calling out, “Good morning! God bless you!” to drivers until 10:00 am, Monday through Friday? Who does that? And why?
There were no social media back then, so it wasn’t for likes and follows. It was simpler then. Johnny was just doing what he felt called to do: Deliver kindness. In daily doses.
It started when he had been on foot, crossing this very intersection, and busy traffic trapped him in the middle. So, he smiled and waved to the passers-by while he waited for a clearing. He said he felt so good doing it that he quit his job as a bus driver to become an unpaid spreader of joy. He was 60-years-old.
Johnny continued his morning greetings for more than 30 years. Locals and tourists stopped to talk to him and he sometimes prayed with them, too. They loved how he made them feel. And they loved him.
When I finally approached Johnny, we talked a while and I asked why he was there, doing this. For years.
“The good Lord and I are just trying to make people happy,” he told me. “Happiness is a choice. You can choose to be happy or not to be happy. I choose to be happy. When the good Lord wakes me up in the morning and puts a song in my soul, a smile on my face, I just give it away to others. That’s why the good Lord and I are down there every morning just trying to give it away, make people happy.”
And suddenly, I understood.
When Johnny Barnes died at 93 years old in 2016, Bermudians missed him so much that they erected a statue of him to keep his spirit alive, But I know a statue wasn’t necessary for that because here I am thinking about him all these years later when I walk and wave at passing cars, no longer wondering if they’ll wave back. I don’t wave with expectation anymore.
Instead, I wave for them. And for Love. To give it away. And because the spirit of Johnny Barnes lives in me and in every life he touched.