I met my childhood sweetheart, Andrew, when I was in Senior Kindergarten. Looking back on Primary School class pictures, he was the cutest little curly-haired blond cherub you have ever seen. He had a smile that was a mile wide and a personality to match.
As we grew, Andrew matured into the kind of young man that every parent hopes their daughter will bring home; warm, kind, respectful and smart. Andrew and I were an ‘item’ in high school and my family, including my beloved grandparents, adored him.
One of the things I loved about Andrew was his eternal optimism. And, even though he got teased mercilessly by his buddies for it, his favourite maxim was; ‘smile and the world smiles with you, frown and you frown alone.’ Andrew gets teased to this day for sticking so steadfastly to that saying but, honestly, it still warms my heart.
Andrew and I dropped the romantic aspect of our relationship years ago and have remained good friends. He is married to one of my favourite people in this entire world and they have an absolutely beautiful family. I was out for lunch with his family a few weeks ago when they all teasingly chimed in on Andrew’s maxim. He got a delightful blush on his face and I caught a fleeting glimpse of the little boy I knew forty years ago in kindergarten. Just as cute. Just as endearing.
It is a week before Christmas. As the mother of three kids and a business winding down for the holidays I am on maximum overdrive.
I had a million and one things to accomplish today and when I awoke at 5:30 this morning, the word ‘hurry’ flashed across my brain. After dropping Zach at school, grocery shopping, playing hostess to a meeting at Simon’s office (because he is still so ill with the flu), driving home and putting away groceries, I had to race Max up to the orthodontist to get his bottom braces on. And then race back home to feed Michael some lunch and head downtown for a field trip at 11:00am.
By the time I had dropped Max, my blood pressure was probably fairly high and the word ‘hurry’ was even more urgent and insistent than it had been five hours before.
I was waiting to pull out of the parking lot at the orthodontist when I noticed a very elderly woman slowly making her way down the sidewalk. All I could think was; ‘oh man, I hope I can pull out into traffic before she makes it to my car. It will take her a full minute for her to get out of my way. I need to hurry!’
Well, of course, the traffic was heavy and she made it to my car. I was blocking the sidewalk so I needed to back up so that she could pass. She was waving frantically at me but I wasn’t sure what she was trying to communicate. Perhaps it was; ‘get that bloody little red car off the damn sidewalk and out of my way.’ Or maybe it was; ‘don’t worry, I’ve got all the time in the world and I can wait.’ Regardless of what she was trying to communicate, I wasn’t in that much of a rush that I couldn’t let an old lady pass by on a wintry sidewalk. So I backed up.
As she walked past my car she turned and flashed me a smile that was so wide, so delightful and so beautiful it actually took my breath away. She shone her light on me so brightly it was almost blinding. I beamed right back at her and we had one of those miraculous ‘love-in’ moments that always seem to come out of nowhere and are gone before you can really register their splendour.
As I watched the slow progress of this beautiful human being who had been put so serendipitously in my path this morning, I marvelled at the delicacy of human interaction. If she had snarled at me and shaken her head as she went by, my day of hurry and bustle would have been that much harder. That kind of interaction would have put me off my game and made me feel wrongly accused and bitter.
As I pulled out into traffic with a smile in my heart, my old friend Andrew flashed into my mind’s eye. And what I realized is that I had listened but never really heard those words that he had spoken so often and that belonged so much to him.
‘Smile and the world smiles with you…’
Andrew’s words came to life for me this morning. So now, rather than a pithy little saying, those words have a deep and resonant meaning.
And as I drove my little red car on to the next part of my day, I wondered how many other lives that beautiful old woman is going to touch simply because she chooses to smile at the world. And I wondered how many lives I can touch today and tomorrow and the next day as people are roaring around from place to place trying to get way too much done in far too little time.
So now, in this crazy week leading up to Christmas, I have been gently and lovingly reminded that this season is about joy, family, celebration, connection and love. And it is also about a smile from a stranger to remind me that I am never too busy for a miracle.