I believe in smiling – not a teeth-baring, Ms. America grin, but a smile that plays at the edges of my mouth and crinkles up the corners of my eyes ever so slightly. When I moved to the New York metropolitan area 20 years ago, Midwesterners warned me not to smile, not to look people in the eyes. Look down. Look tough. Look out. Certainly, don’t smile. Today, 20-plus years later, I smile. I go to the store and I smile. I walk down Main Street in the small Connecticut town where I live and I smile. I walk into an office for a meeting and I smile at passersby.
I worked with a Hospice patient once – a woman with lung cancer. I took her to the grocery store each week and pushed the cart for her. Dying made living hard for Rory. But still she smiled – though with each trip her grocery list grew shorter and her basket emptier. She smiled at the cashier, and the butcher and the stock boy. She smiled at anyone in the same aisle she graced. And they smiled back. Did they sense her life was waning? Perhaps, but I don’t think it was pity. I believe they smiled because she smiled – simple as that. Try it sometime, she said, and I did.
Research shows that smiling triggers the release of ameliorating chemicals in the body — like the fresh blueberries that are supposed to save my memory. But that’s not why I smile. It’s because life is hard and frowning makes it harder for me and for others. I smile because it’s a small way to acknowledge someone who’s in the same place at the same time – usually endeavoring to do the same thing whether that’s filling the cupboards, getting fresh air, or earning a living. I smile because I can and they will – just like Rory said.
The eyes may be the mirror of the soul, but I believe it shines in a smile, as well. We are all in this world together – and only for a brief time. To me, a smile recognizes the similarities that make us human and, for just a moment, can disconnect someone from the loneliness, pain or fear that’s part of living, too.
Oh, and I also believe in crying. But that’s another story.
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