There are a lot of threads coming together for me these days.
Story #1: A few years ago, I was in full work mode. When this happens, I get obsessed. I forget to say hello. I forget to acknowledge other human beings. This time, I needed to get a bunch of printing done and hopped over to the nearest Staples. While Sweetie was parking the car, I marched into the store, laid down my copies, said hello (which I thought was pretty good under the circumstances) and proceeded to detail the printing task I needed done. I had even written it out ahead of time. The woman-behind-the-counter wasn’t responding well. She was abrupt, giving me attitude. I couldn’t understand it. By now Sweetie had turned up.
“Hello,” he said to the woman-behind-the-counter. “How are you? Pretty busy by the looks of it. You look like you could use some help around here.” He called her by name. (It was on the name tag.) And he was smiling. He’s a very gregarious sort. Talks to anyone. Smiles at anyone. You can probably guess what happened. She smiled. She gushed. She laughed. She couldn’t do enough for him. I had become invisible. When we got back to the car, I was thoroughly annoyed.
“How come she gave me attitude and fell all over you? I was polite,” says I.
“Did you smile?” said Sweetie.
“Did you ask her how she was?”
“No. But I was polite! And all I was asking her was to do her job!”
Silence. Okay. I got the point. And I’ve remembered it.
Story #2: Sweetie used to travel a lot by air. He always got upgraded. When I travel by air, I never get upgraded. I smile now. I ask the ticket agent how things are going. I commiserate. I’m friendly. I tell them not to hurry, I’m fine. No upgrade. Never. Not once. And if I’m with Sweetie at the counter, he doesn’t get upgraded either. But if he goes to the ticket counter alone and I hide behind a pillar, he always comes back with business class seats for both of us. I’m not too proud. I hide behind the pillar. Or go to the washroom. Or walk to other end of the terminal. Whatever it takes. Clearly, I still haven’t completely figured this out.
Story #3: After writing last week about Ted, Bill and Johnny, I started playing Johnny’s song each morning while I was getting ready to leave the house.
I started making a point of saying good morning and smiling to the people who would sit across from me on the go train heading in to work. People looked a bit surprised but smiled back. I complimented one woman on how nice she looked. She’d obviously spent time putting herself together. She responded with a huge grin. I helped another woman with directions. In the past I would have been polite. This time I was friendly. I made sure I had change in my pocket for people asking for money on the street corner and made eye contact, smiled again so they would know they weren’t invisible to me. It feels good to do these things. And this time, I wasn’t seeking anything in return. Just did it.
These small kindnesses cost so little… just a tiny bit of effort and a moment in time. But I’m realizing they have the power to change a person’s day if not the world. And maybe that’s enough. Maybe enough of those moments can start to make a difference.
Story #4: I became aware several years ago that I had developed something of a reputation for not suffering fools gladly. I was astounded one day to hear someone describe me as scary, aggressive and intimidating. “Me???” I squeaked. I had no idea that’s how I was coming across. I started taking a hard look at myself. I wanted to be a better person. I wanted to be someone people liked, not someone that scared them off. Interestingly, my family and close friends see me completely differently. They use words such as warm, funny, a bit ditsy. So why did nobody else see that? I sought professional help. I searched out readings that might allow me to see myself and the world around me a little differently. One such reading came from Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist monk who is probably as well known as the Dalai Lama. Well it wasn’t exactly a reading. It was a mantra.
With this day I smile.
24 brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in every moment.
And to view all beings with eyes of compassion.
I say that mantra to myself in the mirror most mornings. And when I find myself wondering why that person over there is doing something so incredibly stupid or the person across from me is behaving in such a ridiculous manner, it comes back to me. I see the woman in the mirror. She’s reminding me… View all beings with eyes of compassion. It makes life a little easier. It makes me less quick to judge.
So what have I learned?
Peace begins with a smile. Small kindnesses are their own reward. Everyone deserves compassion. And I have more to learn from Sweetie. Now if I could just develop patience.
Postcript: You will need to click on the youtube link here. Aretha recorded the song before Otis Redding scored a major hit with it. I always felt the Otis version was a bit condescending. Aretha sings from a woman’s perspective. This is the way it should be sung.
- Gretchen Rubin: The Surprising Benefits Of Smiling (huffingtonpost.com)