Walking into Publix today, I was greeted by an older gentleman handing out gloves. This was a relief, considering I had become accustomed to the familiar routine of walking in, heading straight for the floral department to guiltily slide my arm into a plastic flower sleeve that extended well up over my elbow before nestling my little green basket safely in the crook of my arm.
“Oh, this is a nice surprise. Thank you.” He replied “I like your mask. It looks like I heart.” “Thank you,” I chuckled, adjusting my bright red dinner napkin improvised mask securely behind my ears with hair doodles. It hid my cheeky grin but not the twinkle in my eyes to be so acknowledged for my makeshift effort to comply with Osceola County Ordinance. As I efficiently made my way through the produce section, as expertly as an Instacart Shopper, I passed people I’m sure I’ve seen before, now cloaked in anonymity behind their own attempts to adhere to common sense and the law – bandana secured with a banana clip, and a painter’s mask and an extra small t-shirt half covering the head and nose. I applauded people’s creativity. I couldn’t help but smile as we passed each other in the aisles.
If you know me, you know I have trouble NOT smiling especially when coming face to face with people. I smile at strangers, babies and cashiers. I smile at dogs and pretty flowers. I smile when I see the neatly maintained rows of toilet paper and the fully stocked end cap of pork rinds and when they have my favorite flavor of ice cream. I smile when it’s my turn at the cash register. And when I smile, it radiates up to my eyes and throughout my body. And that smile, is never more broad than when someone returns the smile. It’s electric and invigorating and it reminds me of how we are all connected in kindness at our core. Even today, fully masked, I was smiling underneath last night’s dinner accessory, and no one knew. It was like my own little secret. And it caused me to imagine others having their own little secret smiles, hidden from the world. Weaving up and down the aisles I was surprised to make more eye contact with others than ever before and I quickly became a study of the many other ways people smile – in their bodies, with their heads, with their arms and gestures. Yes, I had to look deeper and longer for the smile in others. But it was there around every turn if I watched for it and expected it. And what would have been an otherwise ordinary supply run for my family turned into the most joyous pleasurable experience to be in a horde of ear to ear grins – to be surrounded by kindness and love, if only in my imagination.
My challenge to you. . in a time when our simplest expression of kindness is shielded for the sake of the general welfare of our community, look for the smile in others. It’s still there. Under the mask. Behind the bandana. And share YOUR smile. Show it in your eyes. Show it in a simple head nod – a body tilt. A gesture with your hands or arms or body. Smile with your whole being. Neuroscience confirms that smiling creates a positive feedback loop in the mindbody. As smile muscles contract they stimulate our brain’s reward center and in turn amplify endorphins which makes us feel even happier. So, keep sharing your smiles and keep looking for smiles. Smiles fuel hope and spread love within yourself and others.
And when this is all over, and we transition from the masks we don for the sake of public safety to the ones we wear for our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual safety, keep smiling and keep looking for it, and expecting it. As you expect, so too will you realize. In the words of Louis Armstrong “When you’re smilin’ keep on smilin’ The whole world smiles with you.”