I am thinking about the smiles of people I know, which is funny because I hardly know them at all. I only know the impact they’ve had on me and the lessons I’ve learned from them.
For example, one of the best smiles I have ever seen was lent to me by a man that was much older. He was nearly toothless and gray-haired. It might be almost doubtful that he remembers me at all. But needless to say, I remember him very well.
The older man and I were in a small classroom in the back of a homeless shelter in North Jersey. We spoke for a while. And we listened to each other as human beings. There was no title between us. There were no corporate positions or need for dominance or control in the conversation. No, quite honestly, this was a man that just wanted to talk and be heard. The conversation was honored as a mutual benefit.
He smiled at me. He smiled the way a friend would smile at another friend after a meaningful conversation. I never felt so honored by someone I had never met before.
It is amazing how people respond when they believe someone is actually listening. It’s an amazing thing to be heard and actually believe someone cares enough to put their agenda to the side. Safe to say, the problems and the distractions of “Self” can blind us from these simple lessons.
I like to collect things like this.
I like to collect memories of smiles or good times when life would otherwise be tough. I like to think about the smiles I’ve seen from people that had little to believe in, yet somehow, and miraculously, they found themselves on top — or at minimum, they realized what it feels like to be noticed and acknowledged. It’s amazing to see people respond to this. It’s amazing to see someone be acknowledged when they would otherwise feel ignored.
I have been part of different fellowships and different organizations and movements. I have seen people smile in spite of themselves. Perhaps the best smiles I’ve seen are from children. I saw this at a place where smiles would mainly disappear. I saw this at a hospital once. I saw this in the wing that houses the pediatric cancer facility. I watched a young girl smile while she received her last round treatment. I saw her smile because she beat cancer. Stage 4 to be exact.
After which, I went out into the playroom. This place was incredible. They had every toy. They had costumes to dress in. And I ran around and I laughed and I played as hard as I possibly could. I saw kids with no hair on their heads and living under the circumstances of a tragic prognosis. I saw a boy, pale as ever in a wheelchair, sickly and sad. There was a glazed look over his eyes but that didn’t stop me from trying. And I know he was too sick to smile. But I could see him watch me. I could see him. He was in there. I swear he was.
I looked around at these little boys and girls. They were literally playing for their lives. And not for points. I played until I couldn’t play anymore because quite honestly, “Who the fuck am I?” I’m just another person down here on Project Earth. There is so much more that we fail to see. I swore to myself that I owed each and every one of these kids. I owed them something more valuable than the smile they gave me.
See, all too often, we take life for granted. We forget the simplest things, like our ability to smile or listen to one another. We forget how important it is to do the simplest things. We forget how important it is to feel someone’s hand or the warmth of a simple word, like “Hello” for example.
There was a time when I was a very young boy. I don’t remember much of this. All I recall is being in the hospital. I was there for a long time and looking out the window. I remember there was a blue sky out there, but yet, I was stuck where I was. There was an entire world out there. I wanted to be out there too but no, I was stuck inside and sick with needles stuck in my arms.
Fortunately, my sickness was less intense and not life-threatening. I was there for a few weeks. Meanwhile, every other kid I knew was outside playing. I remember that feeling; as if I was missing out on great things.
And sometimes we feel this way. Sometimes we get stuck. We become so held up in ourselves that we feel trapped.
Sometimes we allow ourselves to turn so deeply inward that we forget what it feels like to play or stand outside and feel the sun on our face. More importantly, sometimes we forget to keep things in perspective.
I used to say there is no theft worse than the theft of someone’s childhood. And I still believe this is true. However, life has caused me to redefine my sense of childhood. Life has shown me what happens when I forget to laugh or play or take care of myself. Therefore, I have personally chosen to regain my childhood as much as I possibly can on a daily basis.
I made myself (and those kids) a promise to never forget that moment in the playroom. Sad to say that chances are the outcome was unfortunate for some of the kids I met on that day. But for that moment, we were able to share a time together. Yes. That’s it. We had a time. We had a moment. We had a minute, which may seem miniscule in the grand scheme of things but I swore to myself that I would never forget the lesson I learned.
So long as I am alive, I will keep this memory with me. I will keep the memory of these children and of people that smiled at me when their circumstances were tragic or otherwise unhappy.
First, this lesson taught me to get over myself. I learned that my levels of self-importance and the grandiose thinking is less than helpful. Not everything in my life is so tragic.
I know this because I once saw a little girl. She was dressed in a little sundress. Her mother was nearby. The little girl was running from one dandelion to the next. She was looking for the feathery ones; the kind that one could close their eyes, make a wish and blow.
I remember the little girl ran to every dandelion she could find. And she would pull each dandelion out of the ground. She closed her eyes and then she would make a wish and blow.
Her mother was nearby and watching. The mother was dressed very well as if she had just come from a serious occasion. She wanted to hurry the little girl but it was clear the little girl was on a mission.
At one point, the little girl noticed there were some dandelions in the ground near me. At the time, I was going through something emotionally heavy. I was pissed off, angry at everyone and naturally feeling sorry for myself. No one understood me. No one cared. I was the only person in my boat. What would the world know about me, right?
The mother grew concerned as if the little girl was bothersome to me because she was nearby. I waved to ease the mother’s concerns.
The little girl was close and pulling up the dandelions. She closed her eyes, whispered her wish and then she blew the feathers as hard as she could. I asked the little girl what she was doing. She explained that her Daddy told her that if she pulls the dandelions, all she has to do is close her eyes, wish really hard and then blow the feathers around and her wishes will come true.
Then I asked the little girl what she was wishing for. “For my Daddy to come home from Heaven,” she told me.
Sometimes we get so carried away with ourselves that we forget we are luckier than we seem.
I owe that little girl for this lesson. Even if she has forgotten me — I promise I will never forget her for as long as I live.