The Power of a Smile

Jeffrey - Arlington, Virginia
Entered on April 6, 2008
Age Group: Under 18

It seemed that we had no way to communicate, separated by a barrier of language, age, and nationality. Never once did we exchange a word with cognitive meaning nor did we know anything about each other. Despite this we somehow formed a bond that is indelible. In the same way a picture is worth a thousand words, a smile is worth a thousand conversations. I believe in the power of a smile.

Her name was Catherine but we called her Penne, three years old and probably one of the youngest angels known to mankind. My family served as her host family, a refuge in times of uncertainty when she realized the frailty of the human body. She came to America from Uganda in need of life saving heart surgery. She was only able to stay overnight at my house for two days before she was admitted to Children’s Hospital in Washington DC. It was a weird feeling after those two days because I felt as if I had known Penne all my life.

We had a rather peculiar way of communicating. I would look out of the corner of my eye in her direction and then slowly turn my head towards hers. When our eyes met I would ever so slightly squint my eyes and curl the corners of my mouth upward simultaneously, after which I could see her smile begin to shine as her pearly white teeth radiated joy outwards as she parted her lips. It was almost like peek-a-boo because she and I would exchange these smiles continuously. She smiled at me at dinner, while I was doing homework, or when I walked into the room. When our eyes met, a smile was sure to follow.

Her surgery did not go as planned and had many complications. She was on a respirator and feeding tubes for days (It’s funny how days can seem like years…). I constantly thought of Catherine, prayed for Penne, and longed to see her smile once again. I got that chance when my family and I visited her at the hospital. She was sound asleep when we filed in next to her bed; she looked small, scared, and unhappy. As a crowd of strangers gathered around her bed, she opened her eyes but kept her head perfectly still. The only thing she moved was her eyes, and her eyes met mine first. I saw traces of a tiny smile forming on her lips as she shyly and quickly threw her head into the pillow while letting out a giggle. I was satisfied. A simple smile had me overflowing with joy and left me with tears in my eyes. I will never forget.

I will never forget the last time I saw her smile. I was sitting on my couch doing homework when Penne and her mother, Oliver, walked through the kitchen holding hands while headed to the bathroom. Little Penne looked over her shoulder and I gave her the look, and she gave me her precious smile.

Moments later I heard a chilling scream as Oliver ran back into the kitchen holding Penne in her arms like a newborn. I remember seeing Penne’s doctor, who happened to be at the house conducting a routine checkup, hold his stethoscope up to her chest. He started shaking her arm violently while yelling her name. He snatched up Penne and ran into the living room. The rest was a blur. The CPR, the ambulance, the hospital, the waiting room, the funeral home. She was gone…just like that.

She is in a better place. A place filled with smiles, smiles that give endless and unfailing peace and happiness. The power of Penne’s smile changed my life. You possess the power to brighten a stranger’s day, the power to communicate, the power to spread joy, the power to show love. You possess the power of a smile.