–A sincere smile can change the world.–
The night’s rains have turned the hard-packed-dirt surface of Rabbit Lane into a thin slick of mud, with small pools in the valleys between washboard peaks. Long earthworms, flushed from their deluged burrows, make their tedious way across the muddy film, seeming to wander without any sense of where they need to go. Slight worm tracks criss-cross the slick: shallow smooth ruts, their directions and intersections chaotic, random, crossing over and following each other without discernible pattern. They leave only faint signs of their humble existence. By the time I arrive, the rising sun has begun to warm and dry the clay. Most of the worms have found their way into the softer soil of the farm fields or ditch bank, or have been eaten by ravenous American Robins. In addition to the dangers of birds and desiccation are the perils of ants, cars, bicycles, snakes, and the boots of oblivious humans. One large worm, seven inches long, struggles to cross the stiffening soil, grains of stand sticking to its increasingly gaunt length. The worm’s journey seems long and futile. It need not be, I muse as I pick up the worm and settle it under a patch of moist grass clippings at the edge of the ploughed field.
Our lives may seem similarly chaotic and random, our direction indiscernible. The slightest storm tends to send us scurrying for safety and shelter. The vicissitudes and dangers of life gobble many of us up or leave us injured or maimed. We see and touch each other as we ooze about our daily lives. But what is the impact of these connections and intersections upon ourselves and those that we meet? Do we allow these events to possess any meaning, or do we simply move on in the pretense of aloneness to disappear into the grass, down our dark holes?
Certainly we are more than earthworms. Our complex bodies join forces with intelligent minds and sensitive spirits. We are souls. Our life patterns may seem random and chaotic, but each interaction can be meaningful, can teach and edify and even heal.
At American Burger I connected with a man sitting at another table. Our eyes had furtively met several times, and each time we looked back to our burgers and fries, pretending the connection had not occurred. I arose to drop my garbage into the can. Returning to my table for my coat and book, I stopped as his table and said, “For the life of me I can’t place where I know you. I’m Roger.”
He smiled pleasantly and replied, “I thought I knew you, too. I’m Ray, and this is my wife Betsy. I work at the city sewer plant.”
Then I remembered having seen him at company functions, though we had never met.
With a smile of my own, I offered, “Well, Ray and Betsy, it’s nice to meet you. Have a great afternoon.”
I may never see Ray and Betsy again. I gave nothing tangible to them, did nothing visible for them. They likewise gave me nothing. Yet we had connected in some indefinable but real and uplifting way. Our simple, random crossing of paths left me feeling happier.
How many times in a day do we cross another’s path? Dozens, if not hundreds. I cross paths with my children each morning as I leave for work. Every day they insist on giving me a hug (or two or three) as I walk out the door. I’m often late and anxious to get away. Sometimes I protest, “Just let me go, guys” or “You already hugged me once.” Sometimes I stop and put my briefcase on the floor to give them a genuine embrace and a smile and a kind word, perhaps “I love you” or “Have a great day”. If I really pay attention to these moments of connection, I notice a subtle but distinct feeling of goodness and happiness, a sense that something has changed for the better. On those occasions where I exit hastily and with irritation, I notice a hint of sadness in myself and in them. I am making a greater effort to be mindful in these moments, to do or say something that makes the connection a happy one, an edifying one.
I can do this in the store, in line at the post office, at work, even in the dentist chair. The connections will happen regardless of how I accept them, for none of us lives in isolation. It seems to be the nature of life to bring us together, to give us these opportunities to interact. Life gives us never-ending chances to cross paths with others and to leave them better and happier than we find them. I often receive these opportunities weakly, being full of worry or sadness or grief or fear. But I can make a greater effort to choose another way. I think we will find, somewhat ironically, that choosing to uplift others will uplift mostly ourselves.