No need for words.
I find myself staring in the mirror studying different variations of a smile. A forced smile, staged smile, fake smile, sad smile, sneeky smile, smirk and so on. This is not a hobby of mine, but on this particular day I was drawn to the simple complexity of a smile and the story it can tell. Somewhere along the journey from child to adult many of us get too caught up in life to appreciate the little things like a smile. We spend our days navigating through crowds of familiar strangers adorned with blinders and uninterested in the journey of the people around us. We underestimate the power behind a smile and its ability to speak for us without uttering a word.
I am not a morning person and the expression on my face when I commute says it all. I don’t want to be bothered and I am easily irritated. I just want to get through my day, so that I can get through the work week, so that I can get to the weekend (which flies by far too quickly), so that I can start all over again. I have been told that I look arrogant, that I look like a jerk, that I look mean, that I look like I am too good for everyone. The fact is I am the complete opposite. I simply wear a stone cold expression, too preoccupied with “things” to consciously wear a pleasant expression all day.
I was making my way to work one morning on my typical commute…. Crowded F train to Bryant Park stop; long walk down the crowded tunnel towards the 7 train; fighting past people walking down the steps to the platform; swimming like trout up stream as an arriving train of people fight their way up the stairs to exit. I finally make it the platform and walk to my usual spot to wait for the train.
I noticed out of the corner of my eye a homeless man sitting on a bench with his back to the train that I was waiting for. I paid him no mind. You pass homeless people in NY all the time. I was busy running through my work schedule in my head, thinking about all the projects I had to get through and anticipating what issues I was going to have to deal with. I was hot, sweating and anxiously waiting as I compulsively checked my watch. My train finally rolled into the station and all I could think was “it better have air conditioning.”
I boarded and turned facing out of the train window. The homeless man was still there, not bothering anyone or begging for money. He sat there as if waiting for something or someone that would never arrive. The doors closed and I stayed looking out the window. The homeless man, as if he had heard the expression on my face, turned to me with a huge smile. He raised a battered sign that said “God Bless You” and shot me a thumbs up. For a split second time froze as I tried to process the moment. I couldn’t help but let a smile escape through the cold expression I was carrying that morning.
Here was a man who, as far as I know, had nothing but the torn and dirty clothes he was wearing and yet the smile he gave told me otherwise. I saw someone much wealthier than I. He changed my mood for the rest of the day and my perspective forever. He asked for nothing in return.
As the train pulled out of the station I saw him stand up and start to walk away. I can’t help but think he had been waiting for me.
We go through life with some rough idea of which road we want to take. Sometimes we get too caught up in our own journey to realize there are other people on the road with us. Take off your blinders and look around you.
Give a smile and tell your story. When someone shoots you a smile… listen to theirs.