There is nothing more beautiful than a smile. And I swear this has to be true. It just has to be. There is nothing more warm or inviting than a genuine, wholesome smile.
I have a record of smiles in my memory. I think of them sometimes, like say, when a friend of mine offered me a pair of new blue jeans. He smiled at me in a brotherly way. I had never seen anything like this before. As a matter of fact, I had never truly seen what it means to be charitable until him.
This man never had much. He never had much of anything but then again, he understood what it meant to not have something, which is why he chose to give me his pair of new blue jeans.
He didn’t want me to feel the way he did, forgotten, unworthy, or worse, unimportant.
There is more to this story but for now, I will leave out the details and insert the debt I owe to pay forward and the appreciation for my friend’s warmth.
This man was homeless. He never had much. But he had a new pair of blue jeans. They were brand new, in fact.
He wanted to be sure that wherever I went in my life from that point onward; he wanted to know that I knew what it was like to be given something new, which in this case is more metaphoric than anything else.
I was looking for a new life at the time. And so was he. I was young then, at best, I was ignorant to so many things. I was unaware of what it means to live or hurt or feel the true sting of life. My list of experience was short; therefore, I had yet to really know how it feels to come up empty. I had yet to find myself in the gutter for more than a short time or see myself, face down in the dirt with nowhere else to go.
My friend was a man that saw the worst of the world. He saw a hard life, and yet, he endured the beatings, the pain, the racism, and the empty hope of homeless streets and homeless shelters. He could have easily enjoyed his gift but no. Instead, he exchanged his gift for something money could never buy.
Instead, he gave his pair of brand new jeans to me. He made me promise him a few things before accepting them.
He made me promise I would give the world a shot. I had to promise that no matter how tough it was, no matter how hard life could be, and no matter how much I hurt, I had to promise him that I would be good and never quit.
He said that to him, me straightening out would be worth the exchange.
“I lived a long, many years,” he told me.
He spoke with a deep southern twang. His skin was dark black. He was thin and frail, old, grayhaired, and his hands were dried and beaten from trying to hang on to the ropes of life.
“I seen a lot of things,” he told me.
“I’ve felt a lot of pain.”
He told me, “This ain’t no life for you, son.”
He told me, “You go on now.”
“You do what they tell you to do.”
He told me, “I don’t care what it is they tell you, just do it, and don’t never come around here no more.”
His was a smile I will never forget.
Then of course, there was Mike. I know I have told you much about him. Perhaps I have told you more than you realize because people like Mike are life changing in this world.
His was a smile that I will always remember.
There are different types of smiles we will see in our life. Some are youthful. Some are wild. Some are paternal and loving, and this is the one that comforts the most, as if there were no such thing as judgement and all could be healed. This was Mike
And then there was Pop. His smile was unlike any other in the world. He was my first hero.
I swear, when The Old Man smiled it was like the world pointed at me and said, “Atta-boy, son!”
Let’s not forget Alan. And Peggy. And Christine and Robbie. Of course, I can’t forget Sondra. I remember a game of scrabble between Sondra and Harry. And now Stan is with them too.
I can’t forget the days when I lived at 60 Meadow Street and the smiles from there and those that came to visit.
I can’t forget my daughter either, Rachel, and the first time I remember her laughing out loud because I made her happy. I can’t forget the woman I love and the way she loves me.
I think of my loved ones. I think about their laughs and the amazement I feel when their laughter becomes hysterical. I think about how their laugh can be so uncontrollable that their laughter becomes contagious, and suddenly, nothing could ever be wrong in this world.
I have photos of my family from before I was born. I love these pictures. I love the way they smile. I love the way colored photographs look. They are almost technicolor and taken from a time when black and white film was no more and colorized photography came in to take its place.
There is a photo I have, which belonged to The Old Man. It was taken in 1946. This picture was of men in uniform, from the Army, Air Corps. They were from The Fighting 69th (or at least my Mother told me so) and they were smiling, all of them happily, sitting at a round table with girls at each side of them, pitchers of beer on the table, a cigar in their mouths, frothy mugs in one hand and a woman in the other. Above the black and white photograph, written in The Old Man’s handwriting were the words, “The Boys”
It was the end of WWII.
I can only imagine the life these men had seen.
I don’t remember much of my own smiles. I know that I smile. Of course, I smile. I am sure that smile often. However, I am also sure that the most impactful expression on Earth is a smile.
It has to be. A smile can change the direction of someone’s day. I know this for certain.
I wonder though. I wonder where smiles go once the face is no longer around to grant them the ability to do so.
I wonder if what I wish to believe is true, that the eyes in Heaven never blink, and that the eyes in Heaven see more clearly and in ways that we could never comprehend.
I wonder if they can see me now, my loved ones that have passed, and if they smile at me they way they used to, —or, are they more youthful now? Are they younger now because age no longer exists where they live?
I believe the eyes in Heaven never blink. I believe this because they do not have to.
However, since we are of the flesh, then we have to follow the laws of the flesh; in which case, we blink our eyes because we need to.
We close our eyes to dream. We shut our eyes to sleep. We shut them to imagine or picture something we cannot see. But the eyes in Heaven don’t have to do this.
No, they can see everything we can’t. And I believe this. I believe this because I want to. I believe this because I choose to. I believe this because I believe there is nothing so strong as a Mother’s love, and somewhere, oh please Dear God, I hope Mom is smiling too.
It is written, “No one knows the hour or the day. Not the Angels in Heaven. Not even The Son. Only The Father knows.”
I don’t know where Heaven is.
For all I know, Heaven can be the dream Mom and The Old Man had about a place they always wanted in Florida.
Maybe this is somewhere with a golf course, not too far away from the ocean, and hidden away somewhere at a place where the seas are always kind and the winds are always soft.
I don’t know where my parents are now. I don’t know where the rest of my loved ones are either. I just know that my letters do not reach where they live. Or maybe they do. Maybe they get everything I send.
Either way, for now, I’ll just go back to my memory, close my eyes, think of them, —and smile
Written In Memory of Alice Elaine Kimmel
My Mother and biggest fan