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Imagine I am smiling. I am looking into your eyes. You are important to me. You can see it in my face. How are you?
How many times did you smile at a complete stranger today? Did you look straight into the eyes of the person who filled your tank with gas? Did you smile at the bus driver? Did you ask your neighbor how he was today, waiting around long enough to hear the answer? How about the man who stood behind you in the generic line you stood in this afternoon? Did you strike up a conversation? Don't be ashamed. I didn't either.
A few days ago my mother stood in line at the bank. It was a cold day. Everyone was waiting patiently and silently. My mother began to play a game, imagining what each person was like behind their coats and hats and make-up. She thought about the person's family, their jobs, and how they were feeling.
I thought I was the only person in the world who played games like that until my mother told me this story. I wonder how many others do. I wonder how close we are to the truth. Funny, because we never know. We get our money from the bank and we go on with our lives. No one remembers the man who stood behind us, the one with the funny hat. Where did he get that hat? Was it a present? How many other hats does he own?
My mother said of all the crazy outfits and funny hairstyles, the thing she noticed most was the way no one made eye contact. If someone had only looked at her, she could have smiled. But she was intimidated, afraid to say anything, because all the other people in the line were silent.
My mother walked away from the line without knowing the name of the man in front of her, or hearing the voice of the woman who stood behind her. She'll never know.
When I was young, my grandfather and I used to play a game. When I visited him in the summer, we would go to the pool to swim and to meet his friends and the grandchildren of his friends. We would see how many people we could say hello to. One point for saying "hello," one point for smiling, and one point for Grandpa if he remembered their name. (He never scored high in this category.)
If I said hello to someone my age, I got a lot more than a point. Many times the "hello" would turn into, "What's your name?" "Where are you from?" "Which one's your grandparent?" I spent many hours playing in the pool with miscellaneous grandchildren, all of whom I never saw again. But I have most of their addresses tucked away somewhere upstairs.
There's no happy ending to this story. Either you don't know their name and you forget them, or you know their name, spend a few happy hours with them, and then forget them.
However, I know that I felt good when I said hello to the people at the pool. And every person I smiled at smiled back. My mother used to tell me I had a beautiful smile. My grandfather said, "Smile, and the world smiles with you." Maybe it's not important that you know her name or his life story. Just a smile is enough.
I will see you on the street sometime. You will know me, because I will be the one who is smiling.
But it is different for me. I spend most of my day in school, with people I know. Or do I? n