Thursday, March 20, 2014

Smile or Smirk

There are those who think I may be overplaying my new position of grandfather. Perhaps, but the whole thing makes me feel suddenly very old. Change can come very quickly, as it did in the Franz Kafka short story, The Metamorphosis. In it Gregor Samsa discovered that he had turned into a giant ugly bug overnight. Instead of becoming a bug, my fear is that one day I will wake up and find that I have become a grumpy old man (some would suggest there is not much difference in how either one are received).  

I have been married to Rhonda for over thirty years. We started out about the same age, but whereas she seems to be getting younger, my aging has accelerated. When I look in the mirror I am much older than the image I carry in my mind and my wallet.

I was walking in the lobby of church a week or so ago with Rhonda when I stopped for some reason (I don’t remember what), and she moved on to take care of something. Two women thought they recognized me and asked if I was who I am. When I happily agreed that I was he, they continued with their questions. 

“Your daughter just had a baby right?” one of them asked.
“Yes, she did,” I said.
“It was a little boy wasn’t it?” asked the other.
“Yes, it was,” I replied
“Now was that your daughter or your wife who was just with you?”

There are at least a couple ways to interpret this conversation: I look old, Rhonda looks young, or both. She certainly smiles more than I do – maybe that’s it.

I was watching a rerun of the Bob Newhart show (the older one) and Emily, his wife, said to him, “Smile Bob,” and Bob said, “I am.”  I couldn’t tell if he was, he may have been. At least he thought he was. I know how he feels; I very often think I am smiling, and then someone says, “Smile.” There was this one woman at church, Charlotte, who whenever she saw me always said, “Smile.”  She passed away and now her husband has taken up the task. I am inclined to ask “Why?”, but that would just start an argument.  So I smile in a Mona Lisa sort of way.

Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting of a woman has been the subject of debate for hundreds of years. Is she smiling or serious? I read where it depends on the angle of the viewer, the size of the image, the distance to the image, and the lighting. It’s a matter of perspective, I suppose. But I guess it is better to put on a happy face and remove all doubt – or at least appear crazy.

Clearly, a smile can be misinterpreted. When I was in high school Kenny, a friend of mine, took the superintendent’s command, “Wipe that smile off your face,” literally and was escorted to the office for attempting to do so.

There are people who genuinely always seem to be happy. While conducting preliminary research, I asked a cheerful woman named Carole for her secret. “Attitude and gratitude,” she said with a smile. “You have to work at it.” I wrote that one down.  

My grandson is beginning to smile – that big broad toothless grin of a happy baby. When I look at him I am reminded that I need to take care of my teeth, or I may wake up someday an old man with a similar toothless smile.

1 comment:

  1. Jerry, as I learn a long time ago, you have to think about it and make yourself smile from time to time. Many people used to say the same thing to me. Only problem is I was sort of smiling in my own mind. What I was actually doing was just allowing my facial muscles to be relaxed. Then I started making a conscientious effort to smile more often. Funny part is that I smiles at my neighbor as his car passed mine on the way to work. I later learned from him that his passenger told him that it was too early in the morning to be dealing with someone smiling. So truth be told, you can't win on either count. Just be happy that you are who you are and go about your business. Mind you, since you are more in the public eye than I am in your work, it would pay to practice your smile for your customers. The rest will just come with practice. I enjoyed another one of you stories that had me remembering many of my own smiles over the years. Thank you.