There are some people who when you look at them you would think they were always in a bad mood. The look on their faces signal, “Don’t bother me. Don’t say anything to me. I’m not interested.” Not my mother. My mother’s smile would light up a room. It was her natural expression. I can’t remember her ever frowning much. I’m not saying she went around with a smile on her face all the time. It’s just that she had a pleasant face, a gentle face that appeared to the outside world that she was approachable, non-threatening. Some people when they see a person smile take it for weakness and get set to take advantage. My mother related once that her co-workers would sometimes get annoyed at her because of her smile. “Don’t you ever get mad?” They’d ask her. Of course she got angry, particularly at things she deemed unjust or unfair. On her job, she was a shop steward, a union representative. Co-workers would come to her if they had a grievance against management and she would represent them. And she taught her children to stand up for their rights. She was not a push-over. But it was her smile that I will always remember. My mother’s smile was her legacy to me.
In a world filled with disaster – earthquake in Haiti, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis, how can I write about smiling? Am I being naive? I don’t think so. On the one hand, a smile can be used to seduce, to disarm, or to manipulate. On the other hand, an honest smile, one that comes from the heart, can brighten a person’s day. No matter how bad I feel, or if I’m having a horrible day, when someone smiles at me, for that moment, my mood lightens. A smile can connect one person to another as if to say, “I understand.” It can signal that a person is receptive, approachable. Sometimes when I’ve smiled at others, I’ve noticed frowns briefly disappear. I have a friend who always has a serious expression on her face. When I first met her, I kept my distance thinking she was unfriendly. But then I saw her smile. It was radiant. It changed my perception of her. A smile is a reminder that we should not take life so seriously and that we are not alone. There is much to cry about, but there is also much to smile about. When I wake up to a new day, or look at nature, a flower, a tree, a child’s face, innocent and curious, or when I hear a person’s laughter, I can’t help but smile.