Saturday, November 09, 2013
Not long before she died at fifty-four, my mom was starting to become upset about becoming older. She pointed out that her face was now sagging, making her down-turned resting face frown more noticeable. Her face looked so much more beautiful when she smiled anyway, so I suggested she learn to smile more often and she agreed that doing that would be a good idea. But she needed my help. To cue her to remember to smile, I began a habit of smiling at her - giving her an outright huge, toothy grin or just turning up the corners of my mouth so they didn't turn down. It turned out that smiling more often actually made me feel happier too, so I kept doing it. I realize now that it's an agreement I made with my mother long ago that still persists and connects me to being her daughter. Here is a picture of me at fifty-four with that slight smile next to my brother.
Smiling more often as a matter of course has had an unexpected effect on others...
Many years ago when I first came to Hawaii, I was invited to this birthday party for someone I didn't know, because I was connected to a band member of the party gal. Most of the people at the party were younger than me. They seemed to be talking about who they knew, how cool they were (or how afraid they were not so cool) and what clothes the others were wearing. They weren't particularly interested in having conversations that were about ideas, languages, relationships or values, which were my favorite subjects. So I spent my time playing with the kids and the household dogs, randomly smiling to recognize people passing by as I wandered around the party. They put up an open mike for musicians to share their original music, so for the birthday girl I sang the Bolinas version of an original "Happy Birthday" written by Ananda Gino Brady.
At the end of the night while driving home, my friend who had invited me said he didn't understand how I could be so completely misunderstood by strangers. When I asked him what he meant, he said someone had asked him if I was a special needs person. Evidently those twenty-somethings believed that if you were smiling too often, there had to be something seriously wrong with your sanity.
But wait! I have yet another story about this...
In San Francisco, people who are special needs adults go out together in a group. Along with them comes one or two workers who are paid to chaperone and generally make sure the group doesn't get into trouble.
I was standing at the corner waiting for a bus in S.F. when this sort of group joined me to also board the bus. People of all walks of life take the bus in San Francisco, because of the parking difficulties. I was heading for a music lesson, so I wasn't carrying a pack or purse.
All of us got on the bus together, and I took the only available seat next to one of the special needs people. We began to talk. I guess I encouraged rambunctious replies because their "handler" asked for quiet and to stay in their seats. I apologized and stated that it was my fault to have encouraged the intensity of response. After some time had passed, a metal water container made it out of the pack of one of the members of the special needs group and rolled two seats away back into the depths of the lurching bus. Since I knew all of them were barred against fetching it, I asked the person in the seat in back of me to please hand it forward so it could be returned to the owner. There was no response, so I got up and retrieved the item before it caused a problem.
In a short time, the correct stop came and the special needs group disembarked. I slid over to a window seat that was now unoccupied and glanced back to the woman behind me who had ignored my request previously to help retrieve the water bottle.
She had a red face to match her red hair. She gushed, "I'm so sorry that I assumed you were one of them."
"Yes," I agreed, attempting some humor. "It's embarrassing when you realize you've treated special people in special ways. I like to be especially smiley. Sometimes it makes people think I'm special."
"Well, the good kind of special then," she grinned. She nervously laughed with me.
We talked a bit more about how smiling affects people. I told her the story of my smiling agreement with my mom. She declared that maybe she would smile more often too.