Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Smile

I was exhausted, it was hot and I was outside under the afternoon sun.  I had my two year old son in a stroller walking along outside of an event I really wanted to attend.  There were friends I wanted to talk to, people I wanted to meet, and things I wanted to see.  The event was outside along a beautiful stretch of beach in the Caribbean ocean.  I lived there so, as one does, I sometimes took its beauty for granted.  That day was one example.  I was walking along not feeling present in my lil' guy's life or even in my own life.  I was just thinking about what I wasn’t getting at that moment.  I was stuck in my own little world.  YUP- I was being selfish.  

Then like a flash of light on a dark night some guy walking in the other direction smiled at me.  His smile shook me out of my funk and suddenly I could see the beautiful shades of color in the Caribbean water, where the blues leaked into green and in some areas a dark secret hue of blue that only served to magnify the brilliance of the other shades.  I could hear the ocean and its tranquility took over.  I took a moment to talk with my son to settle him a little more so he could finally fall asleep because he was comforted rather than just because it was what I wanted.  I walked about 5 more minutes taking in the sights and sounds with a new appreciation.  Nothing had changed except for this random man and his smile.

When my son was asleep I turned around to return to the event and I saw the same man again, this time; like me, walking in the opposite direction. This time I smiled at him first and he smiled back with a gentlemanly nod of his head.  Again his smile seemed to shine.  Without thinking I heard myself blurt out a comment as he passed me. “You have a beautiful smile.”  I blurted out over my shoulder.   I remember thinking to myself, why the heck did you say that?  Oh, well… it was harmless; it was nothing…just a silly comment.  

Little did I know how wrong I was.
Maybe 5 minutes went by as I continued slowly down the beach back to the event.  This time enjoying the sights and sounds of the ocean, my son's little chubby toes sticking out of the stroller and his gentle snore.  I was enjoying this new peace.  Suddenly, the man came running up to me.  He stopped in front of me and I could tell he had something to say, but he wasn’t speaking.  I reached out and put my hand on his shoulder and I asked if everything was okay.  He stumbled through his words as he asked if he could tell me a story.  My son was finally asleep, and I love to hear stories, so of course I agreed.  
This man explained how he was in a drug rehab facility and he had to be clean for a certain number of days before he was allowed out unescorted.  This day was his first outing as a clean man.  He was feeling uncomfortable.  He felt as though he did not belong.  When he saw me he felt even less like he belonged, especially around a woman and her child.  He wondered if he was going to make it, if he was strong enough.  He felt alone and abandoned.  He was thinking of everything he had lost, his wife and children, his job. He had lost the love and respect of those he cared about. He was lost in his own little world, in his own misery. 

He said that when I smiled at him the first time that he started to feel a little better about himself.  Remember, my recollection was that he had smile at me first and it was he who had shaken me out of my funk.  Regardless, as he saw it, because of the smile I threw at him, he began to feel stronger.  He said he had not smiled in years until that day.  Then when our paths crossed again, I accidently allowed the thought that was in my head to bubble up and be heard.  I didn’t mean to.  There was no intention to the thought or even to the action.  Regardless, he said he felt completely reinvigorated and confident.  He felt that all would be well.  He began to tear up as he explained the courage he felt just because I commented on his smile.  He took my hands and began to pray.  It was a simple prayer of gratitude.  He thanked God for sending him and angel to take away his fear and remind him who was in charge.  He saw our chance encounter as a sign that everything was going to be okay, that he was not alone.  The words that came out of my mouth were not mine, but I heard myself tell him; “You have never been alone.  You will need this experience to make you who you need to be now.  You have had this experience so you could meet the people who will allow you to do what God has intended you to do.  From now on you need to make choices with a purpose. You have taken a big step today to change your life.  Stay close to God and when you feel weak, know that He is stronger and He is with you.  With your new strength you have not only changed your life, but you will change the life of others.”  This man threw his arms around me and embraced me with more love than I’ve felt from a complete stranger.  When he finally released me I unleashed a barrage of “you are an angel”, “thank you” and “God Bless you”.  As he walked away, for the first time I could see his shabby clothes, his drug pocked complexion and his snaggly teeth.
I walked away feeling a bit rattled and entirely shocked.  I had no idea where those comments came from or what the heck had prompted them.  I don’t talk like that.  I mean, I believe in God and all that but, still… I don’t talk like that: “Choices with a purpose?”  What do I know about what this total stranger will do to change people’s lives?  What the heck just happened?  I was confused.
When I returned to my husband, he looked at me funny and asked if I was okay.  I shook my head to clear the fog and just said "I had an interesting conversation with someone." 


A lot has changed.  My life has fallen …not fallen apart, but more like fallen back together.  My head has cleared and I am now aware that my husband has had numerous affairs.  I can now see the multitude of ways he has tried to hold me back, pull me down and de-grade me.  Worst of all, I had forgotten how to believe in myself. 
Just like the drug addict, this set my life on a path that I would not be on without the travails that have shaped me. Needless to say, we are now divorced.  I have started my own company (the first of at least three in the next 5 years) and I feel more on track with my life and what I am supposed to do than ever.  I am convinced that the words that I may have spoken to the drug addict were intended for me, just as much as they were intended for him.

He thought I was an angel, but I am convinced he was the angel.  I look back now and I can see the hand of God working through this drug addict to bring me closer to God because in less than a year from the day of this encounter I needed His strength to get me through the  next 18 months.  I came closer to God in that time.  I’ve always wanted to leave this world knowing I’ve made a positive impact and now I am clear on just what I need to do and I am getting more and more clear on how it will all come together.
So please:
Smile more.  You may change someone’s day, or you may change someone’s life. 

Interact with people who are different from you. Do it fearlessly without regard for what others may think of you for talking with the homeless man, the prostitute, the person whose faith is different from yours, the person who is older than you, or younger than you; the person whose skin is different, whose body is different.  You never know what gift they will share with you.  Those people who are different from you, they all have a gift for you.  The question is whether or not you will see them in the right light.  Will you see them with love or will you see them with judgment.  It is only when you see them with love that the gift is revealed to you.  Once you have that gift, your life will be altered irreversibly.  You will see a new type of love that you can’t get from someone who is just like you.
Permission to publish this story granted by my friend, a gifted and wise story teller.