I never thought I’d change the world by risking a simple smile. It was the Christmas season. Joy filled the air as the snow fell gently to the earth. Boxes withholding secrets were wrapped in shiny paper and cluttered the living room floor. But not everyone was happy and cheerful as the holiday implies. I, for one, was miserable. Suffering from depression and anxiety had put a toll on my emotional health and my body. Headaches hammered my skull. A loss of interest invaded my spirit. I didn’t want to participate in any activity or engage with anyone. All my relationships were strained. Eggshells covered the ground by my feet. At age fifteen my life was wearing me down. The damage appeared on the inside and on the surface. Intense emotions hollowed out my being. I ate to compensate for the feelings of loss and distress, bringing my weight up to nearly 300 pounds. I wanted out. The idea of “peace on earth” and “goodwill to all men” played no effect on my heart. I was lost.
To combat some of the urges to isolate and hurt myself, I often accompanied my mother shopping. Sometimes it was a grocery store or a clothing department. This particular time it was the local mall. On this day, Christmas Eve, we were completing our Christmas shopping. The walkways were crowded. It was the last minute for people to grab good deals on items and the whole world had decided to go out looking for gifts. At least it seemed that way. Lines passed through the doors. Men and women rushed through the stores, dragging whining children behind. Somehow baby’s lungs grew stronger as we walked, piercing and overwhelming. Occasionally the sound of shattering glass filled the air along with a few choice words. Whose idea was this?
Drained and soar, mom and I meandered into the food court. Hunger and shopping do not mix well. Of course there were no tables, so we waited a moment. I swear that even over all the commotion, everyone heard my stomach growl. Pain gripped my sides and my feet were about to fall off. Finally, we spotted a small clearing in the crowd. I rushed over and with greedy hands grabbed the table. Victory!
Chinese food was the verdict. Mom went up to order while I kept a close eye on our bags. Staring at the table became old quick. I did not want to think about what might be lurking in the grooves of the mental frame. However, looking out among the people was a scary thought. There might be someone I know. Or worse, someone was sure to be judging the way I sat or how I was dressed. My self-consciousness was at full throttle. I was on edge, getting ready for whatever would happen next. However, nothing could prepare me for what occurred at that dinner hour.
Deciding to look up, I scanned the area. Then a feeling came over me. There were no words to describe exactly what happened. I just had the notion to look to my right. The feeling was so fast that it was gone quicker than it came. I noticed a woman sitting by herself a few tables over. She looked lonely. Maybe fate caused her to look up at the same time I did. Perhaps it was God nudging me to encounter this woman. Whatever the reason, something clicked. A smile crept up on my face. It was the kind of smile that I thought only said “Hi,” nothing more. My head turned back quickly. Mom had returned with our food.
Gradually, mom and I became engrossed in conversation, discussing what we had bought and which stores to hit next. We were so tired but the excitement in the air kept us moving along. The two seconds I spent greeting a complete stranger passed from my mind completely.
Suddenly, I heard a voice trying to talk above the raucous. “Thank you.” It was the woman I had exchanged respects with a few moments ago. Shock drained color from my face. This woman came over to thank me for my smile. She told me she had been shopping the entire day while her feet ached and her back hurt. Today was the only day she had to purchase gifts. Her son was coming in from out-of-town and the job of collecting Christmas presents was overwhelming. She had so much left to accomplish and felt incapable to the task. But my smile, she announced, changed her mood. This woman claimed that she gained strength and cheer. Her day changed from wretched to pleasant. She found the strength to carry on inside a simple smile. My smile.
A smile seemed to be such an insignificant part of my life. It was only a few muscles rising in my face. What was the big deal? But I learned on that day by raising the two corners of my mouth, I could change the world. How unbelievable! I had such power to change a woman’s outlook on the present moment. Despite my depression, I had influenced a person’s day. Although I did not realize at the time (actually not for a few years) two lives were affected by my action. The smile, in turn, changed my disposition. The clouds parted. Weightlessness lifted up my bones. True, the feeling eventually ceased. However, I will never forget the day when I risked a smile and transformed my life.
I need to take one day at a time, but my smile will last forever.
So, here’s a smile…pass it on.