There’s smiling by the serene waters of a lakeside village. Or in some welcoming place tailored to what you look like. And then there’s smiling in what’s generally considered a not so nice place. The kind of smile I’m writing about isn’t because someone’s simply passing through that spot, either. No, it’s the one that emerges on the face of someone for whom that not so nice place is ordinary.
I see this sometimes, and it always gives me pause. It’s far from unusual to see two or more people smiling in camaraderie over something anywhere that isn’t supposed to be a great place to live, but, being by one’s self and smiling is a different matter altogether. It requires one to stand out. It’s an old, mushy sentiment that smiles are contagious, but any such transference usually happens when people are already in sync anyway. But what if you’re not in sync, or you’re not that reflection of a part of the world someone else wants to see smile back at them when they look in the mirror?
Sometimes a business will have someone whose job it is to stand out on the street and hand out fliers. Usually people with this job have cultivated a light stoicism, but a while back I saw an exception to that. I passed behind a woman whom was doing this job just as a bus inched past her at a red light. She smiled warmly and waved emphatically to the passengers. I’m pretty sure not one of them waved back. Blank stares all around. After that, the woman was all slumped shoulders and there was a twinge of regret.
It could be said that such a level of unabashed enthusiasm is rarely met well on any plain in a society where people are trying to get through the day with minimal being one-upped. Someone I knew once expressed the sentiment that in a particularly ‘good’ neighborhood, people will extend themselves with enthusiasm because they can afford to. If you can’t buy your way in to such a place on any long-term basis, you’ll shuffle off stage quickly enough. And if you can, well, some kind of obvious positivity is a hallmark of the good life.
But that’s the good kind of neighborhood that isn’t so terribly concerned with being cool. A gentrified neighborhood would have likely offered the same blank stares for someone who didn’t look the right way. Back on the other side of the tracks, though, there’s usually enough reasons to remember why one goes about stoically or with the equivalent of a samurai’s mask–a face that’s supposed to be formidable. The by-one’s-self smiles seem to be like a flower in concrete. Rarer and stronger perhaps than one from some garden, but there’s always the chance of being trampled on.
As hard as they may be to sustain, I think the world of smiles that appear so keenly where it’s hard to keep smiling. Makes me always want to check my own face–that it’s not hardened like one of those old samurai masks.