Is there anything in this world like it?
A child looking into your eyes, and he or she smiles.
It is the most genuine gesture in this fine world, a great gift from the greatest of gifts.
My daughter is 8 months old, and she has been smiling for all of her short life. Recently, the smiles are more exaggerated, more expressive.
From waking up in the morning to welcoming me home after work, she is happy. I know there will be days in the future when she will not smile, when she wakes up sick, or not ready to face the day. Later in life, she may even not be so thrilled to see my return because of a decision I made that she saw differently.
For these days, the smile is enough. They are in fact, more than enough. In a time when the nights are interrupted and when balance is not yet met, that smile is re-energizing and inspiring.
In her smile, I find myself often thinking about Lourdes, a small town in France at the foot of the Pyrenees mountains. In 1858, an apparition occurred there of the Blessed Virgin Mary to a teenage girl, now known in history as St. Bernadette.
In one of the apparitions, Bernadette was directed by Mary to an unknown fountain of water within the grotto in which Mary appeared. Soon, people washed themselves in that water and as a result, miracles followed.
All these years later, people, both healthy and sick, journey to Lourdes in search of healing. Sometimes, their needs are visible. Other times, it is less clear. What is clear is that all pilgrims are searching for peace that only God can provide.
One of the fascinating aspects of Lourdes is the international representation of both the pilgrims and the volunteers who care for those in need of support. From all of the world, but predominantly, Western Europe, the languages vary from person to person.
As a three-time volunteer, my life was changed for the better by serving in this spiritual site. Prayers were answered, new friends were made, and a deeper understanding of who God is, were all gifts of Lourdes.
To help those who speak a different language, the rule is simple: smile. It is the international language that cannot be misunderstood. A smile to the pilgrim we carried out of a train to the fellow volunteer who was running on fumes after a day of service, the smile made a difference. It didn’t solve the problems, but it certainly helped.
As a New Yorker, where the unwritten rule is to avoiding eye contact and under no circumstance smile at a stranger, this concept of smiling to all you encounter was different to say the least. While on campus, as a minister, I try to smile at all I see. Yet, the second I walk off campus, that smile disappears.
So in my daughter, as was in Lourdes, I am reminded of the power of a smile. Next time you are in a public space, look at the faces of those who walk by. Many will have their faces mesmerized by their phones. Others will be glancing at the next street light as they race to their destination. Notice how many smile. It will likely be minimal.
Then pay attention to the children. Notice their attention is on others. And notice their smile.
They breathe the same air we do, living on the same planet at the same time in history. Sure we have more understanding and awareness, and freedoms and opportunities. Yet, the children are smiling.
Wisdom is found in these developing humans. They remind us of a simpler time, challenging us to return to a place of less pressure, anxiety, and worry. In their smile, they give us permission to smile back.
So, smile later today when you encounter friend and stranger alike. You never know, they may smile back at you!