Jean and Hunter

“We shall never know all the good that a simple smile can do.” ~ Mother Teresa

The last time my 83-year-old mother-in-law visited, I asked how she was feeling. It’s a valid question. She has, after all, had two knee replacements, a metal rod inserted in her femur, and a liver transplant. Pins hold her wrist together, and arthritis is settling into her bones so thoroughly she can no longer roll the dough to make her famous cinnamon crisps. She moves slowly and with precision to avoid another fall.

But she hasn’t stopped moving. In fact, she and my father-in-law attended their first Jimmy Buffet concert this summer… where they sat in the lawn. Here’s the thing about my in-laws: They never say no to an invitation or a new adventure. If they can make it work, they’re willing to try just about anything. When we need them to come stay with the kids, we have to block their social calendars far in advance.

They inspire us daily.

When asked how she was feeling, my mother-in-law said this to me — without an ounce of self-pity:

“Well, most everything hurts every day. Some days are better than others. But you know what I’ve discovered? It doesn’t hurt one bit to smile. So that’s what I’ve decided to do… smile at everyone I see. I may not be able to do all the things I used to do, but I can at least brighten someone’s day.”

It is such simple wisdom, and such a profound shift.

Moving the focus from what we don’t have, from what we’ve lost, from how we’ve been burdened to what we can offer others is the difference between living in the dark and radiating light. And illumination, of course, makes traveling so much easier for ourselves and for others.

The key to a life worth living, I think, is to change perspective…

From inward to outward

From giving up to giving back

From self-consciousness to global awareness

From closing our minds to opening our hearts

From “No, thanks” to “Yes, let’s!”

From judgement to acceptance

From self-importance to humility

From things to people

From indifference to love

You don’t have to cuddle babies in a faraway orphanage or underwrite the expense of a much-needed surgery. It’s not necessary to start a foundation that supports victims of domestic abuse or to ride your bike across the country while raising money for undernourished children. Of course, if you have the time and the means and the able-bodiedness to do those things, then by all means, Go! Do them! Ride like the wind! Start something important! Write giant checks!

But my point is this… sometimes change arrives in a brown-papered package much smaller and less dramatic than the one with the glitter and the shiny pink bow. Sometimes change looks uncannily similar to every day kindness and empathy. Sometimes change begins with letting a fellow driver merge in front of you, with holding the door for a mother juggling armfuls of toddlers and groceries, with graciously acknowledging the curmudgeonly store cashier (even though he’s much more comfortable mumbling and frowning than accepting a word of encouragement), with tipping your server extravagantly, with giving a hungry stranger something to soothe the rumble in his belly.

In chaos theory, the butterfly effect maintains that the smallest breeze from a butterfly’s wing can change the path of a hurricane halfway across the world.

Imagine, then, the possibilities that exist within a single smile.

Mamaw knows.

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5 Responses

  1. SO TRUE! I’ve got several older women in my life that are like that, and I’ve often said I want to be just like them when I’m old… but it starts with TODAY! :o) (sending you a smile!)

  2. Such an inspiring post – this is so spot on. A simple smile. And I love the quote from your MIL. What a wonderfully wise woman.

  3. I’ve known Mrs. Willis for a very long time; her smile is what I remember most…plus her welcoming attitude. Lovely tribute and kudos to her for not giving up!

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