My family and I have been spared from pestilence so far, thank God. Still, I have this complaint: I am smile-starved. Before this season of masks, I never realized how much I communicate with smiles or how nourishing it is to get a smile.
Last night at Schnucks, I was struck by the cashier’s deliberate eye crinkling. I crinkled my eyes back at her. To me, eye crinkling takes more intentional effort than smiling, and I did my best to match her intensity. They don’t call them “the friendliest stores in town” for nothing. It was great, but it wasn’t the same as smiling.
I miss smiles the most at school. There’s nothing like the smile of a second grader with a couple of teeth missing. Well, unless you count the smile of a teeny-tiny kindergartner. However, the smile of a seventh grader is exceedingly rare and therefore precious. And, if memory serves, a teacher’s smile isn’t too shabby either. Reader, I am starving for smiles – genuine, IRL smiles!
Before school started, I ordered a transparent mask in anticipation of doing some smiling. When it arrived weeks later (after taking the slow train from China), I was let down by its poor design. The transparent window stuck to my lips and steamed up with every breath. It was gross. It was the opposite of smiling.
Smiling is my favorite, but I’m a big fan of faces overall. I love a good face. I love a so-called bad face. I love a sharp nose, a broad nose, a big, honking, dramatic nose. I love to find beauty in every face. I am starved for faces.
I heard a podcast recently in which the host interviewed a famous rabbi who talked about the value of looking for yourself in the face of others. He illustrated this idea with the story of the Pharaoh’s daughter finding Baby Moses in the bulrushes.
When Moses was born, his mother was struck by the beauty of his tiny face and did her best to keep him safe for three months. But when the Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses at the river’s edge, his face was red and streaming with tears, and her heart went out to him.
This is the great challenge: to find beauty not just in those of our own tribe who think and act and look like us. The challenge is for our hearts to go out to others, especially those whose faces don’t match our own. I just love it when someone interprets a story in a way I’d never considered. Also, it reminded me of how much I miss people’s faces.
A smile, I think, is shorthand for your heart going out to someone – not in pity, but in a split second of simple human connection.
I realize it may be a while before we can safely smile and be smiled at. For now, crinkly eyes may be the best we can do. But I warn you: when we can smile again, watch out! I’m gonna be smiling like the morning sun, like a Cheshire Cat, like a fool with a secret, like eye crinkles are so last year.
And I will savor every smile I get in return.
-Em : )