Lynn Hummel: What are you smiling about?
If you’re smiling more than usual these days, it may be that you’ve been outside working in our recent stiff winds. Constant wind in the face develops a gritty smile that is anything but amusement, it’s the teeth-clenched pose of determination to survive.
My uncle John had that coarse-textured expression on his face as a permanent fixture, the result of decades of farming windswept fields near Coleharbor in McLean County, North Dakota. Uncle John had a hard life, but he died with a smile on his face.
My late friend, Bud, had a different category of smile. No matter what you said to Bud, he would smile. If you said, “You just won a motorcycle,” Bud would smile and say, “Good.” If you said, “I just ran over your favorite dog,” Bud would smile that same smile and say, “I’m really going to miss Bowzer.” When people argued with Bud, he smiled. It made them furious, but that was just his natural expression.
I knew this guy Duane who would listen to some discussion where everybody was misinformed and way off the track. They didn’t know what they were talking about. Duane would say nothing, but just sit there and smile. He knew the real stuff — the answer they were all groping for but missing by a mile. Duane was content to really know, but content also not to show he knew. He wasn’t a know-it-all, he was just a smiler.
There’s also an evil smile. It’s the smile of a villain who holds the Ace of Spades and he’s about to slam it on the table and take your pile of chips. It won’t matter to him that he’s taking your home mortgage payment, your kids’ lunch money or their summer camp fees.
When George W. Bush was president, he was accused of smirking too much. George was not a villain and he wasn’t evil. But sometimes, his smirk suggested, “Mission Accomplished.” It really meant something like, “I told you so and you insist on misunderstanding.” Now they’ve opened the new George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas and the smile on George’s face is not a smirk, it’s just plain pleasure — one of the best kind of smiles there is.
Maybe the strangest smile of all is the smile of a ball player looking at a referee or umpire in total disbelief. The smile says, “I can’t believe you just called that. It’s ridiculous and I’m furious.” Why would somebody be furious, yet smile? But it happens every game. Psychologists around the world are unable to explain this strange phenomenon.
How do you express yourself when you get the joke, but that it’s not laugh-out-loud funny? Maybe it’s a story your husband has told you more than a few times. It’s a weak smile that shows mild amusement, and more than that — patience.
People with i-Pads and other smart technology sit, run, walk and ride bikes with plugs in their ears. They’re listening to one of their 5,000 favorite songs. If they’re just sitting, they may have their eyes closed (if they’re running, walking or riding bike, they better have at least one eye open). They’re probably smiling. That’s the smile of pleasure.
When you see a young couple having a Coke together and they keep looking across the table talking and smiling at one another, that’s the smile of love. Do not interrupt.
In the past couple weeks, parents and grandparents have been going to high school and college graduation ceremonies. They’ve been smiling and crying at the same time. Those aren’t the smiles of amusement or the tears of pain or mourning, they are the combined chemistry of pride and satisfaction (and possibly a bit of relief thrown in). These are the smiles and tears of family love. There is nothing better.