Over the past eighteen months, I’ve learned how to smile with my eyes. Even though we’re not wearing masks as often as we used to, there’s a few places where it’s still required. I’ve most recently had to wear one visiting someone at the hospital, checking into the local dolphin attraction, going to the eye doctor and a convenience store in South Carolina. Some places make sense, some are kind of random. But along the way I and others have discovered a skill. We can smile with our eyes.
I find this fascinating because smiles are generated by our mouths. What a joy it is to watch a new born slowly but surely respond to your smile with a little smile of their own! Lots of facial muscles work together to make that smile happen, which changes the shape of our eyes. I just never really noticed that until we all had our faces covered by masks.
Once I noticed this, I made sure my own eyes reflected the smile on my face. This meant smiling a little harder beneath my mask to ensure that my eyes were engaged. For many but not all in our family, this is not a tough skill. Squinty eyes accompany the grins on our faces. But those who don’t squint do have a certain sparkle that gives away their smile.
Our eyes convey other emotions, too. Furrowed eyebrows indicate concern. A little moistness is visible when someone is sad. Wide open eyes express surprise. A squint can communicate anger or concern. We all know what eye roll means. Crossed eyes? I’m going nuts. Pupils dilated? Something’s going on. See someone with a perfectly straight face? Check out their eyes.
Masks or not, I find myself looking at eyes a lot more. Colors, makeup, shape, motion. Overgrown bushy eyebrows, extra long lashes, and tired bags beneath the eyes.
And then when they catch me looking at them, I make sure they see me smiling with my eyes.
I did it. I coaxed a smile out of my youngest grandchild Daniel today. I wasn’t the first to do that, but it was the first time for me.
As I reflect on that, I think it’s pretty amazing. I’m not absolutely certain, but I think smiling is an acquired skill. While we’re born with the muscles to smile, we have to learn how to get the corners of our mouths to turn upwards. And we do! At some point our eyes begin to focus on the face in front of us, a face that is smiling at us, and we imitate them as best we can and just like that, we’re smiling!
I enjoy making people smile. Sometimes it’s easy. All I have to do is look at my youngest daughter and she not only smiles but breaks into laughter. Other folks are harder. Some who hear my sermons, which usually include at least one humorous line or story, will not crack a smile.
What is it that makes me smile? There’s the usual — a funny story, certain bodily sounds, a silly face, puppies, finishing up a task, a package at the door, a check in the mail, a clever idea that pops into my head, finding some money in a pants pocket. When someone smiles at me, it’s hard to not smile back.
And of course, a baby. Even before they learn to smile, they make us smile. And then they learn how to smile from us. Isn’t that amazing.
It was right in the middle of a song on Sunday morning. The praise team was smaller than usual, just a couple of voices, but they produced a moment that still echoes in my mind. I don’t remember what the song was, but at one moment, when the two voices –one male, one female — harmonized, it lifted my heart, brought a spontaneous smile to my face, and made me stop and marvel at the beauty of that moment.
Eight days later, I am still thinking about that moment. There was another such moment this morning when, as turned the corner on my way to work and the pre-sunrise colors in the sky took my breath away and made me smile. In the dim morning light, my phone’s camera just wouldn’t capture the colors to preserve that moment, so I can’t even share it with you. Or when I got back home tonight and my two-year-old grandson saw me and shouted, “You came back!” How could I not smile at that?
I am grateful that God sprinkles these little moments into my day from time to time. Sometimes you smile because you have to. Or because you don’t want to cry. But sometimes you just can’t help it.