Do you agree that it’s important to sustain your smile after you initially give it to someone?
If the person turns around and your smile instantly disappears, what message does that send? Or, if someone is observing your interaction and they see that your smile is gone the second the other person walks away, what do you suppose they think?
- They are too busy to stay in the moment.
- The smile was fake because it was turned off so quickly.
- They were selling the smile and now they aren’t.
- The interaction was not a genuine exchange.
Pretend you’re training a purple and say the word, “No!” out loud with firmness.
Now think of something/someone who puts a true smile on your face. Then try saying a commanding, No, again.
Impossible, isn’t it? The word might come out a bit growly, but there’s no impact behind it. Smiling changes everything. It’s why people who do a lot of telephone work are taught to smile when they dial—you can hear through the phone if someone sounds happy or irritated which is definitely me when I’m on the receiving end of a telemarketer.
I learned the power of a sustained smile from living in Red Lodge, Montana for ten years. Being in that tiny town of 2,000 on vacation recently refreshed this for me. I’ve often heard visitors to Pittsburgh say how friendly the people here are and that’s good to know. But people in Red Lodge make Pittsburghers look standoffish. No kidding.
A walk down Broadway, Red Lodge’s main street, has people nodding at you as if you’re old friends. People want to know where you’re from and seem to always know something about that place. When I mention I lived in their lovely state for a decade, the friendly level goes up a notch—unbelievable that it’s possible.
What does this have to do with the title of the blog? Because when we’ve conversed with someone and walk away, I don’t want my smile to fade so quickly that they think: oh, that city person isn’t really that friendly after all. I want my smile to last in their minds long after my words have faded.
I was riding the Pittsburgh trolley into the city one day, watching people get on/off at the various stops—absorbed with their smartphones. At one point, a gentleman in a motorized wheelchair quietly drove on. His polo shirt and shorts revealed a body comprised of skin and bones, joints riddled by what I assume was MS. His head had a permanent tilt to one side of his thin, corded neck. There was a foot control and he had one shoe off so he could drive his wheels.
My memory zipped straight back to my dad and his worn-away-from-ALS body and his motorized chair that sped him up and down Griffith Road for one autumn and one spring before he was gone.
The man caught my eye and I gave him a smile—the kind I gave my dad a million times. The smile I got back stole my heart. I don’t know how such a skinny person, with such a thin face, could produce a smile that stretched that far. It was obvious from the look in his shining eyes that his mental faculties were in tact. Like my father, it was his body that failed him.
A few more trolley stops, a few more times I would look up from my book and he would see me looking at him. We’d both smile at the same time. Soon, he got off. I waved to him as he was departing, not expecting more than a smile in return—unsure if his hands could even function. But as he drove by the window, he looked directly at me and shot his right arm up into the air in a huge wave.
My heart exploded with joy. He received my smile and another wave.
I have so many blessings, so many joys. I have a body that works well in 98% of the ways it should. My life is full and rich.
But that smile … that momentary opportunity to connect with someone who perhaps is unseen by too many people out of their own embarrassment or awkwardness … that beautiful huge smile filled my heart.
Have you surprised someone with a smile that lingered?