“It’s just an observation I can’t ignore,
But people should smile more”
Newton Faulkner – People Should Smile More
I had a momentous thing happen to me today. It changed the course of my life and therefore the course of history itself. For context, I was already having a good day. I had had lunch with my sister and we had talked about everything and nothing. I was involved in a spirited email exchange with a friend, the weather was glorious; it would have been selfish to ask for more from the day.
And yet I was given more.
In any city that I go to, I always try to visit the grain or natural food shop. It is always a beacon where those who feel a little odd can hang out. And I embrace the odd. I love these places because I can buy a kombucha infused chocolate bar or a bag of cacao nibs without any of the other patrons thinking me pretentious. It’s the kind of place where you can spend five minutes deciding the merits of stevia versus agave syrup versus coconut sugar and be met with a sympathetic and not exasperated look.
And it was in this haven, this safe space that, as I was leaving, a woman came into the shop and smiled at me, a smile that reached up from her soul and touched mine. The moment was fleeting, but moved me profoundly. I couldn’t even tell you what this woman looked like – just that she had seen me and smiled.
I know that you might be thinking that this is a fabricated story but it’s not. As I walked out of the shop, I was so moved that I had this exchange with a friend:
To be clear, my friend and I are not deprived of kindness. We just really appreciated the beauty of the gesture. A real smile is one of the great things in existence, a true legal high. Walking through the town towards the bus station, I was determined to pay it forward and smiled at people rather than just keeping my eyes glued to the ground whilst my music played. And it was fascinating.
When you smile at a stranger, they have one of two reactions. The first, and best, is when they smile back at you in the same way, as if your souls are embracing like old friends and making plans to meet again soon. The second one is when they are at first confused, as if you must be mistaken, but then smile back out of a sense of social decency. I like to think those people go on in their day and reflect for a while on the power of such a small action. Either way, a small gesture has a profound impact.
By this time, I was at the bus station and riding an endorphin high. The sun was shining and life was good. Nothing was going to ruin the moment for me. My life force bar was at its highest.
Then a man pushing his wife in a wheelchair ran over my foot. I waited for an apology – after all, I was wearing red shoes and they had erred – none came. No bother, I thought I would smile at them. After all my day had just been supercharged by the simple gesture.
I smiled. They glared. I maintained my smile. They started muttering. I got on the bus. I sent this:
To the woman that smiled at me: thank you. To the old man that ran over my foot, thank you for reminding me that the sweet is never quite as sweet without the sour.