When I was young and single every day was an adventure of possibility; would I meet a cute guy? What would happen at that party? Would those new shoes hurt my feet? Nowadays as a middle aged mama and wife, my thoughts (if I have any at all) are more mundane: What could I make for dinner? Will my pants hurt by the end of the day? What the hell am I going to make for dinner?
I try to recapture the joie de vivre of my youth in little ways like buying clothes in an ambitious size, using glitter eyeshadow though I probably shouldn’t and smiling at strangers. Because I am now officially a grownup, I usually shuffle through my day with a serious face, but I used to smile at everyone. Smiling is free and frankly, it is a size that fits, so I’m wearing one.
As a little kid I listened to records instead of the radio. Fiddler on the Roof, The Sound of Music, Michael Jackson Thriller and of course, Annie. I’d stand up on top of my dresser and belt out “Tomorrow” and “Maybe” and “You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile" written by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin. I’d sing and smile and the world would be transformed. I need that now in my adult life.
I walk through the shopping center parking lot and grin and greet anyone in my path. They often look surprised I spoke to them. They wonder if there is something wrong with me, and usually they smile back. I feel like smiling at strangers is an easy way to cut through all the crap going on in the world lately. I don’t know where to put my time or my money or my presence because there are so many things wrong and thanks to the internet I know about all of them and they all matter. I can’t give money to everything, I cannot show up for every protest or meeting. So I pick what matters most to me. I spend money there and show up there. And I smile at everyone else because it is a small regular thing I can do no matter what else is on my twitter feed.
This smiling, it came into play last weekend when I was in Chicago with family and friends. We were slogging through the rain for a Lyric’s Children’s Opera. We whined and cried (not just me but the kids too) about our wet feet and hungry bellies and pouring rain. I talked with my kids about homeless people and rain and helping others. After the rain let up we slowed our pace and a young man stopped my Father on the sidewalk. His name was Dominick and he was well dressed with an untied bow tie. My dad, he was well dressed with a tied bow tie. Dominick asked my Dad to teach him how to tie his bowtie. He and his two gorgeous lady friends were dressed up heading to a wedding and he’d been looking for a bowtie-tier.
As our party of eight stood around their party of three on Michigan Avenue my Dad tied Dominicks’ bowtie with as much care as he ties his own. I watched him, a tall older white guy, tete a tete with this young African American man in this intimate clothing moment. Man to man. Generation to generation. Race to race. It was a holy moment of love and instant friendship and I’m ashamed to admit I took pictures. I wanted to remember the small things matter. That THIS was my America. That no matter what else was true, this moment was just as true. And I smiled. We all did.