The Common Good

Smiling Back

It was one of those days. The computer at home was having issues. My company email was already filled with help requests even though I hadn’t yet left the house. Traffic on the interstate was snarled. I arrived downtown late.    

A grandfather and grandson play chess. Image courtesy imtmphoto/

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I was not in a good mood.    

When I parked in the garage, the attendant gave me one of those big smiles that make you smile back. Right away, I felt a little better.    

Isn’t it interesting how one smile can change so much? How one genuine smile can change someone’s world?    

Smiling and smiling back are important. And we get many chances at it every day.    

There are moments when we meet a stranger in the elevator or on the street corner. A smile reminds them that they’re worth our notice and they‘re not alone. Maybe it’s what they need at that moment to help them through a rough day.    

There are the smiles that we share with others when we find something funny or moving. Those moments remind us of our deep interconnectedness. We’ll all the same and we‘re all in this together.    

And then there are those other smiles, the best smiles. The ones we get when we’re with a person who knows us so well and loves us so much that it shows on their face. We don’t have to guess how they feel about us; we can see it.    

Now, that’s a smile.    

Those smiles don’t just happen. They take time. You can smile at someone, but you can’t really smile with someone until you’ve cried with them, too. Shared their pain, their doubts, their questions, their uncertainty, even their despair. And their joy as well, those moments when your eyes fill with tears for a different reason.    

You end up smiling together with tear-stained cheeks.    

And those smiles matter the most.    

One of my favorite definitions of religion comes from “If God Is Love” by Philip Gulley and James Mulholland. They put it this way: “When God looks on us, God smiles. Pure religion is learning to smile back.”    

There is something divine about a smile. It’s what happens when we love deeply and readily. And when we recognize that we are loved back.    

We can’t help but smile. And smile back.

Joe Kay is a professional writer living in the Midwest.

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