I don’t dwell on the past; I live for the moment and the future. This isn’t to say that I don’t let past behaviors and outcomes, either my own or those of others, inform how I live for the moment and how I live for the future, but I don’t let myself be ruled by the past. In somewhat practical terms this also means that I don’t tend to have strong memories of things that happened long ago. Memories work best when they get reinforced and for a fair number of people that reinforcement happens when they go back in their minds, revisit those memories, and in some cases reimagine them, edit them even.
And God tells me we all do that, we all modify our pasts in our minds. Some of us do it consciously, some less so. I know I’m not immune, but I certainly try to not do it consciously.
But none of that’s what I want to talk about today. Today I want to tell you about an incident that happened when I was young, probably in my late teens, as I’m pretty sure it was while I was still in High School. God reminded me about it and told me it was worth sharing, and I suppose she’s right.
Now that I’ve given it all that build-up, let me tear it down some. This isn’t a major incident, it’s has no life changing insight; it’s just one of those little things that all add up to make us who we are.
I was walking down the street one day. I had just crossed the street, stepped up over the curb and gone a few feet further along the sidewalk. Another young man was coming from the other direction and just as we were about to pass each other, he said to me, “Smile.” It was said in a sort of commanding tone but playfully, in a way that suggested he knew he had no right to tell me what to do but that it was good advice that I should take just on face value. And he was right. I did smile. I think I smiled not so much because I was told to as because the telling me to was amusing. I smiled because someone had spoken to me with no apparent motive to get something from me; he was not looking for a handout; he was not asking for directions; he was not even trying to strike up a conversation, as he didn’t pause in passing me by.
I have no idea what my expression had been before he spoke. I had been bullied as a young child and that was (and is to some extent) reflected in my exposed persona. I do not often now, and much less then, do things to draw attention to myself. I close in, I leave my face, I think, relatively expressionless. Certainly I don’t generally grin as I walk down the street, so I find it perfectly ordinary that I wasn’t smiling.
There are many things I’ll never know about that encounter, about why that man said what he said. I don’t know if he was in the habit of saying that all the time, just to try and goad the world into being happier. Perhaps I was lost in thoughts that had left a particularly dour or gloomy expression on my face and he thought that ill-befitting of one as young as I was. Perhaps he had just had some good news and wanted everyone he passed to join in his celebratory feelings. But no matter, no matter to any of that. He succeeded in his quest, I smiled, and whether I smiled because the request amused me or if I smiled in reflexive obedience and the act of smiling caused me to be happy and in turn that amused me, I can’t say, not now nor then, but it doesn’t matter, all that matters is that for a little while I was happier than I would have been without it, and that’s a good thing just all on its own.
So give it a try: Smile!