Friday, November 4, 2011
Day 4: Smile to everyone you meet today
What’s on your mind?
Coffee shop gossip for the night: I may be able to skip church. Huge group with tables pulled together. Without turning my head I can tell that one of the guys seems to be the leader. All I can pick out is “frat house Christianity.” An oxymoron maybe? I’m not sure I should skip church or show up to confess.
Can I just tell you how difficult it is to be nice in some way every single day? This is not a normal state of being. And I generally consider myself a kind person, but kind and constantly other-focused is not always necessarily the same thing. Sometimes I feel I can be kind just by not being an ass. Right? If I’m not in your face causing you problems or complaining in some way, and I generally have a non-aggressive look on my face, I must be an ok person.
Actual kindness, I’m finding, takes a bit more effort than that. OH! Say it ain’t so!! I have to work? I’m getting sort of used to the giving part—picking up a coffee, passing out feel-good messages, sending a letter of thanks. That’s just throwing out money, throwing out words. That’s easy. My challenge today is to actually change the way I interact with people, to change—oh, the pain!—to change ME. Please. Not that I don’t smile and make eye contact already, but geez, it’s not like I do it all the time. Sometimes I’m just walking down the street or through the halls caught up in my own stuff, minding my own business, off in my own head someplace, writing in my mind maybe, or appreciating all the beauty around me. I’m not thinking oh, I should look at people and notice them and make a difference in their day. Mostly I’m just not thinking.
I make myself a note so that I remember to do this, but not a post-it for the kitchen counter or I won’t think to smile beyond the front door. Hmm. I take a Sharpie to my hand. That’s it. In permanent marker I draw a smiley face on the back of my hand so that my reminder goes along with me through the day. Now. To remember to look at my hand and to remember why it has a smiley on it in the first place.
I know the research here. I know that smiling at others and expressing more joy will contribute both to my own well-being and to that of those who are lucky enough to be recipient of such. Emotions are contagious. I got that. We see someone smile, and we can’t help but to smile back. Smiling more leads to feelings of happiness. Right. People who are happier are healthier and live longer than those who post a dark ugly Facebook status each Monday morning. Yep. Got it. They’re more productive at work, more creative and generally have more positive relationships. Understood. Happiness, while just a piece of the well-being puzzle, contributes hugely to the bigger picture in a very good way. So I’m fine with this. I just have to remember to do it.
Which turns out to be not quite as easy as what I had imagined. First, permanent marker is not as permanent as one would think. I carry the Sharpie with me but forget to use it. I think to myself, smile, and then feel fake and awkward. I catch myself getting caught up in myself and forgetting to shine my light outward. I decide that mostly I am a positive person, but that I am not always the initiator of the interaction. But I work hard today at giving it the best shot I can.
I start with the young woman working the money booth in the parking ramp. I have noticed that she is always pleasant, with a smile and a greeting each day for both customers and co-workers. I have never seen her frustrated or angry or, believe it or not, indifferent. I greet her first this morning. I wave. I smile. She returns the greeting. Easy. A good start to my day.
I forget only minutes later as I make my way to class on the sidewalks of downtown. I watch the cars, watch my feet, watch something undefined far off in the distance. I go about my business in a very self-focused kind of way. I wrap my coat around me to protect against the sharp wind, keep my step quick, and maintain a very neutral expression on my face. It is the mentally challenged guy in the wheelchair who snaps me out of it and brings me back to my task at hand. With a huge toothless grin spreading across his whiskered face he looks me directly in the eye and shoots me the sweetest ever, “Yer priddy.” For a second, I am lost in total feelings of joy. Children and the mentally challenged, they say it like they think it. I love that, and I love the compliment. I smile a warm and sincere smile and offer up a gushy thank you. This guy has made my day. A smile, two words, and he’s made my day. I feel great. I feel pretty. Wow. So that’s how it works.
In class, it’s easy. Class is generally one of my many happy places. I heard once that instructors who are more upbeat have students who learn better, do better on exams, and are just generally more engaged. Is there research on this? I have no idea, but I like being here, so being chipper and friendly and laid back fun is easy. Sometimes I have to remember that this is CAWL-EGE (read that in a Thurston Howell from Gilligan’s Island blue blood sort of way). I have to remember that I am here to share serious business and theory and research and studies and such. I always feel the need to be so academic, academic meaning in my head dry and dull and boring and stick up my ass, but in reality I usually feel more like a kindergarten teacher. I just work hard on class days to be an especially good girl and pray at night that I never meet the professors that come after me, that I never have to answer to what I failed to hammer into these young heads that sit expecting some sort of transfer of grand knowledge from my brain to theirs.
So my day goes mostly like this. Smile. Forget. Smile. Forget. Smile. Don’t. But what I find most disturbing as I go through my day is that the place I mostly forget to smile is the place I always assumed I was giving the most, my own home. With strangers on the street I am often friendlier and more upbeat than with my own family. Not that I’m negative with my family. I’m just nothing. I walk in the door after class, let the dogs out, put the dishes away, pick up the towel on the floor, put somebody’s shoes in the closet, re-pack my bag for tomorrow’s class, kick off my boots, and wipe the sandwich crumbs off the counter. “HEEEYYYY!! I’m HOOOMMMEE!” I wonder where they are. They yell back. One child is upstairs in his room strumming on the guitar and talking to the dog. The other is in the basement Skyping a friend while watching some back seasons of Ellen. I put dinner on, light a couple candles, and start up my Pandora Train station. I like Train, and I always get a kick out of the idea that I have a Train station. Music humor. I will finally connect with these mystery children of mine after about an hour of being home.
When they come to greet me, and share about their days, I remember the guy in the wheelchair. I remember the scruffy grin and the beaming face and how two simple words made my day. I give these teenagers of mine a giant hug. I look them in the eyes and smile, ask them if they had a great day. I tell them I love them and that I am proud of them. I tell them how great they are and how I’m glad they’re here. My heart is happy. I do this sometimes, but not nearly enough. Mostly I badger them about homework and chores and picking up after themselves. Mostly I am all about taking care of business, all about discussing the email I got from the teacher and the upcoming sports banquet and what we’re supposed to bring and birthday plans for the weekend, what kind of cake do you want and where do you want to have dinner? I decide that I should forget business sometimes. I should forget business and just give them a hug and look them in the eyes and smile and tell them they’re smart and special and that I think they’re priddy, both outside and in.
Thank you so much wheel chair guy for the compliment and the perspective.