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Tuesday
Feb022010

Smile



Yesterday I read a story about a young woman named Lois who could no
longer smile. One day she woke up and half of her face was paralyzed.
Instead of reflecting her changing emotions, her lips and eyes were
frozen in an expression of disdain. She could no longer communicate
joy, compassion or contentment through the once effortless language of
the face. Lois can still feel those things, but the message is
undeliverable. Even her ability to say it with words is compromised by
slack lips and cheeks (1.)

I had a friend in high school who it seemed was always smiling. It was
fun to be around her. I later realized that sometimes the smile was
more about nervousness than happiness, but it still felt great to be
with her. What I wished I had had the maturity to learn was that I
could smile more too. I smiled as a natural response when I felt
happy, but I could have smiled as a conscious effort to engender
cheerfulness around me.

I have been surprisingly sluggish in realizing how much my smile means
to my husband. I smiled plenty when we were dating, because, well that
is what you do. Peacocks spread their tail feathers, frogs inflate
their necks, Humpback whales sing and teenage girls smile. But the
need to attract John slipped away, or at least the urgency of it did.
He was here, and for the foreseeable future was staying, so why would
I smile?

Sometimes the smile is a reaction to the feeling of happiness, while
other times it precedes it.

It is like gratitude. People can become numb to the feeling of
thankfulness, even for things that once inspired generous amounts.
When my daughter Mercy first rested in my arms 22 years ago, the
feelings of wonder and indebtedness squeezed out any other possible
emotion. I was oblivious to comments about the weather, or the
political landscape, or my husband's income. ( 2.) Nothing mattered
but this incredibly sweet baby.

She is still wonderful, yet my gratitude can slide behind other more
pressing matters. just like when when I open new windows on my Mac and
they cover up the ones that were there first. My love for Mercy was
here first, yet it can get covered up.

It works that way with marriage too. When John would call me on
Saturday mornings, while we were betrothed and living 1000 miles
apart, the world stood still. The excitement of talking with him for a
whole expensive hour was enough to block out any annoyances or
distractions. I was talking with my sweetheart. So where does that
feeling, once so overpowering, disappear to when he calls me now? I am
not comfortable with the suggestion that it is any less a miracle. Is
a baby splendid only if the people around her think she is? Is a
husband, attentive to his wife's needs, only noble if she is mindful
of it?

Once when I was talking with a friend whose husband of only two years
had died of cancer, she mused that she would welcome the sight of his
socks strewn on the floor. The floor was clean now, but he was gone. I
thought of my own impatience about scattered trousers, or open
cupboards, and realized that they are a reminder that my husband is
alive and present. That is no less of a blessing now than it was when
we went to the Catskills on our honeymoon. Come to think of it, he may
have left his clothes on the floor then too, but I had more eloquent
things to say than "Pick up your socks, dude."

Mother Teresa changed the world she touched. Some of us may wonder if
we too could make a measurable difference. Yet one of the simple
mandates she gave to people asking her what path to take in healing
the pain of humanity was merely this.

"Smile at your husbands. Smile at your wives."

1. Chicken Soup for the Soul- Tough Times, Tough People: Jack
Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Amy Newmark: 2009; p. 147
2. $12,000