By Suzanne Wentley
One of the best parts of being human, I believe, is sharing smiles with the people around you. But so often, I walk down the sidewalk or into a building and the folks around me are looking down with furrowed brows. They’re closed and, well, maybe a little angry. Or scared. I don’t know. All I know is that I want to say hello to them and smile, but they’re not interested.
We’ve all had those “don’t bother me” days, and I honor the introspective time, even though generally I’m super-outgoing and enjoy meeting new people. But often, it seems, it’s not so much a one-time bad mood I’m seeing in others; instead, it’s a bad habit. People keep their hearts closed.
Sometimes, the complete opposite occurs. Sometimes, I’m the one with my head down, stuck inside my own head. I’m busy checking things off my to-do list, running errands and thinking only of myself. And then, an angel appears.
This happened recently at Publix, when I was shopping for groceries. I engaged in a conversation with the bag boy, which is a strange title but is what I tend to call those adults who work at Publix and bag up my groceries. More preciously, he engaged me in conversation.
“I’m so tired today!” he exclaimed as he pushed my cart out to my car. “I was up late reading my Hardy Boys book. Then I woke up early to feed my dog and have coffee before I came in.”
This man, I would guess, was in his late 40s, but was clearly a little developmentally delayed. That didn’t stop him from being friendly and yammering on about how he makes a better cup of joe than Publix. I nodded politely.
“And I can’t believe I’m going to miss Paw Patrol today. Have you ever watched Paw Patrol?” he asked, hopefully. I don’t own a TV, nor do I have cable, and even if I did I would never in a million years watch this Nick Jr. show. I shook my head, thinking about my to-do list.
“Oh, it’s great,” he continued. “There’s Rubble, he’s an English bulldog who has a skateboard. There’s Zuma, who’s a chocolate Lab with a hovercraft, and Chase, he’s a German shepherd who has a police car. Marshall is a Dalmatian. I bet you can guess what he drives!”
I was starting to zone out, trying to think of an exit strategy, when he ended with a zinger:
“You should watch it sometime. It’ll make you feel like a kid again!”
That stopped me. This was it. This is the problem with so many adults – we rack up so much hurt and mistrust and disappointments from our own and others’ behavior that we stay in, stay closed. Kids never have that problem. They’re stoked to talk about cartoons and Hardy Boys mysteries with anyone who will listen. Life is so amazing, and there’s no reason to stop being amazed.
The trick is being open and engage in life around you. A few weeks after I shared a smile with my new friend at Publix, I was at a high school for work. A few teen boys came up to me and asked if I needed any help. They were wearing matching purple shirts, clearly part of a group. I asked them about it.
“We help out wherever we can,” one said to me. “It’s really great. It feels good when you go home at night to know that you helped out your community.”
“Yeah,” another said. “You don’t even have to get paid. It’s just the right thing to do.”
Yes! At what point as we age do we forget this? I hope I never do. When I was in elementary school, I helped organize recycling programs. In middle school, I picked up trash. In high school, I helped paint porches of people who couldn’t afford the upkeep of their home. And today, I still volunteer to do these things.
But being a positive, active part of our community is even simpler than that: Simply smile. See, there’s a very easy way to keep your heart open to the world of beauty around you. All you have to do is chose to open your heart. Need a little more help? Check out Michael A. Singer’s book, “The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself.”
You’ll thank yourself for feeling like a kid again!