It dawned on me today, I don’t know why it hasn’t occurred to me before now – such a simple truth, such an obvious fact, such a reasonable explanation for their behavior towards me – and it is this – they simply don’t know. How could they? It’s not their fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not anyone’s fault. Well, it’s COVID’s fault actually, but who’s pointing fingers? (ok, I confess – I am)
When I am out in the world, whether that be at school or getting groceries or at church, I am often not getting the reactions and the interactions that I had with others pre-COVID as I went about my day. I hadn’t realized how much those thousand little, often non-verbal, interactions with others went together to make up an important, yes, even essential, part of my day. Those thousand little interactions would weave together into each day’s fabric, sustaining and covering me, connecting me to my brothers and sisters, my family, the human race.
But now those precious interactions are interrupted, even erased from my day. They have been stolen by a virus. How did said virus accomplish this theft of human interaction? Covid did this by silencing our universal language. Ironic, since this language has no words and needs no voice. Yet, still it has been silenced by COVID. And that’s when I realized this truth, they don’t know, they simply don’t know.
The people that I pass in the hall or in the grocery aisle or see in the check out line or in the office, they don’t know. They don’t know that I am smiling at them! They don’t know that I am wishing them well, hoping they have a good day and giving them encouragement should their day be less than desirable at the moment. Yes, a kind, friendly smile can do all that for another person, whether friend, foe or complete stranger. A smile says so much, says so many things without the need for words. A smile says, “I see you, you are not invisible,” “hang in there,” “you’re accepted,” “have a good day,” “glad to see you,” “let’s talk,” “thanks,” “you’re welcome here, come on in,” “I recognize you, I know you,” “I would like to know you better,” and on and on. The language of the smile is universal. The language of the smile is a positive language. It is a language of peace. It is a language of possibility.
Why don’t other people know that I am smiling at them? Because I am wearing a mask! They have no idea that I am wishing them well, that I am open to engagement with them. A smile is an invitation to interaction. They have no idea an invitation has been issued. No wonder they don’t respond.
A smile is also an acceptance of the invitation. I get none of those (smiles, acceptances) because everyone I meet is masked like I am. (so they can’t see my invitation and I can’t see their acceptance – and I may be missing their invitations as well – maybe they are wondering why I don’t respond?) The universal language of the smile is completely silenced by the masks of COVID. The silence is sad. The silence is isolating and breeds conflict rather than the companionship we all crave after being separated for so long.
At this point, my memory is vague of the time when we were without masks, a time when smiles were freely given and received. It seems just when we most need a universal language, a way to connect with other people, our language is silenced by the covering up COVID requires. I confess – I think I have taken smiles too much for granted in the past, until I have had to do without them. It took me awhile to realize what was missing. I knew something was lacking from our current interactions. Who would have thought it was as simple as a smile?
Now, you may be thinking that I must be one of “those people” who want to bond with every person in the grocery check out line and hear their life story. Please know, that is not the case. I don’t bother random strangers with questions about their lives. Although I am curious to know about others’ life experiences. And everyone has a story to tell, without exception. (post – “Crocs and socks/looks and books”) I would hear them all, if I could. But sometimes a smile will suffice to bridge the gap and say I care. Even though I will not learn your story today, I will send you on your way with the parting gift of a smile.
How sad! I am walking through my days with a smile on my face for my fellowman but they don’t know. I know I need the encouragement and acceptance I used to receive from the smiles of others. And here’s something else – you never know where a smile will lead. It might lead to a conversation which might lead to getting to know someone which might lead to making a new friend for life. And it all starts with a smile! (a smile that needs to be seen)
I’m thinking of a dear friend of mine. We are recent friends, but luckily we met pre-COVID so we were not wearing masks when our paths first crossed for a brief encounter. From the invitation of a smile, to the acceptance of a conversation, to discovering that we are soul sisters, – what would have been missed if we had been masked and simply silenced into doing our respective jobs without making the effort to interact because neither could be sure of the other’s openness to share our stories without the encouragement of a smile.
Not every smile leads to a life long friendship, but every smile serves its good purpose – whether to brighten someone’s day, to welcome, to include, to uplift, to affirm, to connect, to invite, – smiles work their magic in the moments of our days – stepping stones to the stories of others or their purpose fulfilled in the moment they are given – because their purpose is for that moment alone. A world without the language of our smiles is a world of disconnected silence.
Which is what I was experiencing, which left me wondering why no one was responding to my friendly smiles, then realizing – they don’t know – they don’t know I’m smiling at them because they can’t see my face for the mask. It’s an odd feeling, not being able to connect in those moments and ways that used to be so effortless, because they happened naturally. A smile was the connection, momentary as it was. Or it was the open door to more. Either way the smile serves its purpose in our lives.
In Numbers 6:25-26 I read these words,
“the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.”
I’m thinking God’s face shining on us is like God smiling at us. It is being looked upon with favor. A smile bestows favor. A smile is a gift to those around us. The smiles of others are gifts to me. When our smiles are masked, something of value is lost to all of us. We are all missing the miracle of a smile amid the mundane of our everyday lives. A smile lights up a person’s face as it lights up any darkness around them at the same time. Psalm 4:6 says,
“Let the light of Your face shine upon us, O Lord.” or another translation says,
“Let Your face smile on us, Lord.”
In Psalm 119:135, David asks God this,
“Smile on me, and teach me Your laws.” or “Make Your face shine upon Your servant and teach me Your decrees.” then in Proverbs 15:30 I read,
“A cheerful look brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones.”
What is a smile but a “cheerful look?” so I can bring joy to the heart of others with just a smile? why would I not do what is within my power to do if it would bring joy to someone else? Looking forward to the time when masks are removed, I think of these words from 2 Corinthians 3:18,
“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
unveiled faces, now that’s something to look forward to, isn’t it? Until then, I will leave you with this, dear readers,
“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)
“turn His face toward me?” I’m both grateful and glad that my Heavenly Father’s face isn’t hidden behind a mask – letting the light of His face shine upon us, bestowing His favor, bidding us come, enter in . . .
sincerely, Grace Day