I was in college. A brand new freshman with barely a friend yet. On my way to the cafeteria from my dorm, walking alone, I saw a group of three students approaching from the opposite direction. Naturally shy, and for some reason not trusting, I was surprised when they called and waved "Hello" from a considerable distance. Surprised that making friends would be so easy I smiled and waved back. It took only a few seconds to close the gap between us on the walkway and just as long to realize that they were trying to connect with someone who was walking behind me. Someone I didn't know was there. I tried to cover my embarrassment by pretending that I was doing the same. That there was also someone beyond them that I was waiting to meet up with. However uncomfortable that experience was it changed me. It has happened many times since and will continue I'm sure. But I learned that smiles are important. Connecting with people who cross your path is a choice. Smiles are welcoming and make you turn towards people when you might otherwise just pass them by. So I started paying attention to people more. I started watching faces.
A few years later. on the other side of the country a woman opened the door of the french pastry shop I was working in. It was a slow time of the day. Our eyes connected and I said "Hi!", with a big smile to match. She said, "Don't look at me with that big cat smile!" with a very scary face and voice. What in the world did she mean? She closed the door just as quickly as she'd opened it and walked away. Stunned, I went back to work. She showed up the next day and again I greeted her with a smile. Inwardly I was unsure if she'd yell at me again and wondered how I attracted mean , strange people. I learned she was semi-homeless, probably an alcoholic and in need of money to get her back to her hotel room. Haha!, I heard the voice in my head say. That voice that grown ups teach you to listen to that tells you people aren't who you think they are and they really shouldn't be trusted. My parents had never taught me that one. But I'd heard it enough as I got older. And every now and then it would creep in as a choice. Instead I followed my gut and started to talk to her. We talked and laughed for a while. She opened up and I learned she was hungry. So I gave her some food, on the house, and called her a cab, which I paid for, and asked if I could keep in touch. She and I were friends for the hour she spent with me at work. She thanked me for being a nice person. I felt like that was a God-given experience. One that I knew, and she knew, and God knew had changed the two of us. I knew I could touch someones life and be rewarded with a connection that was created because of a smile. I never saw her again and was chided by friends for being so gullible. But being gullible had it's upside!
One of the most traumatic events in one of my children's life was changed to good with a smile. Checking the mail with his big sister, my son came home white as a ghost when the "mean lady" from across the street yelled at them to go home or she'd call the police. I quickly hunted her down and asked her if she was yelling at my kids. She yelled at me and walked inside ranting threatening to call the police. She did and they came. For weeks my son was petrified of the front yard and ANY stranger or passing car. Finally he made it out to the street to play as I watched, mainly to support him and keep him safe. She drove up and stopped...of ALL days! She stared at the older children cross in front of her, a stopped car. Go figure! She made eye contact with me and said accusingly, "Did you see THAT?!!" I don't know what got into me. But I smiled and laughed back, "YES. I did!" She laughed and drove away. I don't know what she was thinking or what had actually happened. But she stopped and talked a couple of times before we moved away. Her husband said they'd miss us in the neighborhood.
Then there was my little Spanish-speaking 4 year old friend who sat in front of me at church in the children's Sunday school.We weren't actually friends yet but I was drawn to her because I couldn't understand why she kept ignoring requests to sit still, be quiet and participate. I'd been watching her for the three weeks that I'd been sitting in the row behind her next to my 4 year old who was glued to me for emotional support. She wasn't alone in her misbehaving. She seemed to be encouraged by the little girl sitting next to her. And nothing I said or did helped. But I noticed her holding a Toys'RUs flyer and asked her about it. I think her girlfriend felt sorry for me because she saw that I was getting nowhere with her fast and proceeded to tell me that she didn't speak English. Except that I knew that she did speak english very well, but she was shy.With the Spanish I could remember we talked about the toys in the pictures. She warmed up and sat down. The other little girl watched and smiled. She calmed down, too. Because I was asked to substitute as the chorister for that week and the following week I had the chance to see those two from a different perspective. Watching their faces as I sang and led their singing I noticed something spectacular that will stay with me forever. My new little friend was paying attention. She wasn't fidgeting or getting in trouble. With every fiber of her being she was staring at me. But now she was trying. Why? I asked myself. I think she was trying to be a friend because I tried to be her friend.Could it really be that simple? I believe it was. I smiled at her because she was sitting in front of me and I wanted to make a connection. We just had to find a way. As soon as she felt like I liked her the bridge was gapped.
Smiles really do cross all barriers! What a rejection when someone chooses not to smile back. Or even worse, when they choose not to smile unless everything is going right in their world. I hear over and over again about serving others, bettering your world, reaching out to those less priviledged. I'm facinated that a simple thing like a smile from someone can give them that little something that keeps them going through a really rough day. Or lets a person know that there's hope for them in a dark moment that things will get better. But personally, I'm not trying to change the world or even a person. I just like how it feels to smile. And I love how contagious they are. I like how they change ME!