Every once in a while, I run into someone for whom it seems their whole goal in life is to make others smile. Like the bus driver who gave all the women flowers as they exited the bus. Or the guy who walked in a door behind me and asked me if I was a natural redhead and said it was beautiful (no comments on the dye job from the peanut gallery). They’re just little things, but so totally random, and they make me feel special and loved by the universe, if I can say something as nebulous as that. I think it must be really fun to be them, to be such a source of joy for others, to do or say something and see an instant smile on a stranger’s face. Sometimes I’d like to be a person like that. Of course, my fear of strangers and loathing of social interaction in general get in the way of this, but if I were a different person, if I weren’t so shy or socially distant, I would love to make strangers smile.
When and I were in high school, or maybe I had just graduated and she had just finished her freshman year at U of I, we got together weekly at Starbucks to catch up, talk faith, and enjoy the summer. I remember several times, having gotten tired of the air conditioning or perhaps just wanting movement, we’d take our coffee and go walking, usually over a bridge that crossed the Fox River (there are a couple of these in close proximity to the different Starbucks we’d frequent). Being the 17-year-old that I was, I would make the effort to look guys directly in the eyes and smile, taking joy in the fact that they would stand a bit taller, put a bit more in their step, and generally continue on thinking that someone saw something special in them. (This of course being long before the multitude of life experiences that have made eye contact difficult for me.) I loved that. I wasn’t trying to hit on them or even talk to them – I don’t think we ever did. They were just smiles, something that (hopefully) brightened a stranger’s day.
When I worked in San Francisco, I loved serving food at the soup kitchen, especially because it was a comfortable environment to show a stranger unconditional love. I loved teaching the students what to do when delivering meals to AIDS patients or shut-ins, and then watching them go to work at bringing food and love into another’s life. In high school, I used to write letters to some of the girls in the junior high youth group, knowing how special it made them feel to get real mail.
I try to say “Thank You” to my bus driver upon exiting (unless the ride has been particularly horrendous). I’m cordial to the checkout girl (or boy) at Target or the co-op. I say “Thank You” at the end of business phone calls, even when the person has called me. I’m not rude to waiters and waitresses, try not to get upset at the telemarketers who continually call our house looking for the Yangs, and have yet to actually lose my temper at work (though I’ve come very, very close). I know those things matter, but they seem… insignificant when compared to some of the things others do.
What have you done lately to make a stranger smile?