I was walking home from school in the rain. I stared at my feet, as I probably always did. I most likely was not creatively daydreaming. I was avoiding life. I was dreading going home. Yet I was dreading the return to school the next day.
An older teenager briskly walked by and in the cheeriest voice said, "Chin up, it's a beautiful day." I'll be honest, I don't remember exactly what he said. But it was only a few words. A few impacting words that radiated a smile. I still vividly remember the worn sidewalk and the old houses I passed. I remember my slumped posture. My unsure footsteps. I remember looking up. The rain in my eyes. Just like it was yesterday, and not over 20 years ago.
I knew I didn't smile enough. And after that day I honestly tried. Repeatedly. Absolutely unsuccessfully. It was awkward. It made me uncomfortable to get a smile in return because I felt invisible and being noticed was terrifying. And every effort to smile felt like a betrayal to the truth that I was not happy. I needed help. I needed relationships. I needed peace. I needed forgiveness. I needed healing. I needed hope.
Smiling wasn't going to magically get me that. And I worried that it would decrease the probability of a heroic intervention because people would think I was okay (that was a facet of healing I battled with into my thirties).
But I wasn't okay. And I was all that mattered.
That's what I think about the lack of a smile. It says I'm all that I can think about. I don't care about your issues because I have problems. I don't want to consider your discomfort because I'm not comfortable. I don't want to think about you because I'm too busy. I don't want to turn from my issue for a moment and acknowledge you because I want my issue acknowledged. I don't want to make you feel good because I need someone to make me feel good.
Some people smile easily. They automatically smile at the approach of any set of eyes that may witness their beam. Others are a little uncomfortable with the idea and have to force out a lifting of the corners of the mouth. Some find the effort unnecessary. Others downright feel they have the reason and the right to refuse.
Yes, it's true, some grins are more genuine than others. Smiles are actually multifaceted, intricate expressions and the receiving of these gifts are filtered through our own assumptions and motives. But a lack of a smile says much.
I may go as far as saying being someone who won't smile is selfish. But at the same time very self damaging.
It wasn't until I smiled at grumpy customers that I saw the redemption in a smile. It wasn't until I smiled at a wedding when I actually longed to find love that I realized the joy in a smile. It wasn't until I learned to give a smile of encouragement in spite of all my crap that suffocated me that I realized the freedom in a smile. It wasn't until I laughed through the pain that I realized the healing in a smile. It wasn't until I smiled at my daughter through rushing and worrying that I felt the bonding of a smile. It wasn't until I smiled confidently at a stranger that I realized the power in a smile.
A smile can break down walls. It can initiate conversation. It can ease worry. It can release tension. It can eliminate assumptions (seriously, the thought that someone is being snotty brings many questions of "why?"). It can ease pain. It can increase faith. It can soften hearts. It can close gaps. It can unite different people. It can do more than you think possible. And the magic is often poured on both the giver and receiver.
When I think of my sorrowful youth and how those around me (intentionally or unintentionally) made me feel, I know the power of a smile. I endeavor to have one to offer, knowing that it could change a moment.
Or it could change a life.