“Smile,” my husband urged me as we were navigating a cart the size of a tanker through the insanely busy and crowded Costco. What he did not know is that I had been smiling for a while, excusing people who darted in front of my cart willy nilly, and stopping just short of crashing into oblivious shoppers who were only pretending to be less than mindful to get where they were going without appearing insensitive.
I was done smiling and excusing and dodging. The aggressive me who I generally keep under wraps was starting to make her appearance, and she was not pretty. She grumbles not quite under her breath, she darts seemingly obliviously in front of other carts, and when she gets to the check out and some guy with a cart full of fertilizer and topsoil scoots in front of her cart and beats her to the lane she was very clearly aiming for, she does not smile. In fact she frowns and gives him a raised eyebrow. He smiled goofily but does not relinquish the place he has stolen in line.
“We are never coming here on a Saturday again” I declare vehemently to my husband (I did not just say it, or state it, I declared it vehemently). He agreed, as he is not really fond of the aggressive me. But as I said before, he was not with me while I was being light-heartedly juggled and pushed around in the aisles of Costco. He was returning some jeans that had proven to be a size too big, so he was safely in the return line while I was in the jungle, smiling at my assailants.
I am generally a person who smiles at others—for no reason other than the fact that I like their reaction and subsequent reaction (which is usually a return smile). But I have my limits, and that limit was reached on Saturday. In spades. When I was younger I was often told to smile, which made me grimace in response. I often thought to myself that I was not a grinning idiot or someone who should be prompted to smile. Whose business was it anyway, whether I smiled or not? Then I caught a reflection of my unsmiling (arrogant, deluded, smug) self in the mirror and it was none too pleasant. So I started to smile more. Now I smile or try to half smile so that the havoc wrought by age (at rest my face unfortunately sports a downturned mouth which makes me look really grouchy) is at least partially compensated.
This brings me to the point of this column (which I am sure you were wondering about). The following phrase caught my attention in a book I just started reading over the weekend: “A smile is the passport kindness uses to travel to your eyes, your heart, your soul.” At one time this type of jargon would have made me gag at its sweetness. But having travelled down the road for a few decades, I now understand the truth of the words.
The book is called “Live Your Dash” and it is by Linda Ellis, the author of the “Live Your Dash” poem which was met with worldwide accolades. Not because the poetry sang, as it is to me not particularly lyrical, but because of what it counselled—that we “make every moment matter”. The dash of course is the little line between our birth date and the date of our death, and to quote her poem:
“To many, it is but a hyphen….
Marking time between the years,
but in that little dash, is a lifetime
of laughter, love and tears.”
So, I have determined that during my dash years, I should smile more (even if I look like a grinning idiot) and not use my “facial facade” as a closed gate. Ellis says quite wisely that some people believe that if they smile they are “opening that gate to an unwelcome world” when instead she counters, “sharing a smile is like aspirin for the soul. It helps remove the hurt from the inside out.”
I do think though, that if smiling more is going to be my reigning philosophy I should avoid Costco on Saturday mornings. Why set myself up for failure? Turning that frown upside down is not always possible when you are playing Dodge ‘em Carts.