Grin and Bear it… Or is it Bare it?
“You’re always smiling…” the delivery guy said to me this morning, stating a fact he had noticed rather than criticising or complimenting with his words, “…so many people on my route complain.”
I added a soft laugh to my smile, one of those laughs which fills in for words as I really couldn’t think of anything to say. I could have said – You’re always smiling too – which is true of this delivery guy, and of all the delivery guys and gals whose route I am on.
Actually there is one who doesn’t smile, but that’s because his humour is deadpan and requires that he keep a straight face. He has a very unique type of routine for a delivery guy, which when he first did it to me freaked me out a bit, not because it is scary but because it required more thinking from my brain than I usually do when around people I don’t know that well.
I tend to blank my mind when around people, I forget about myself so that I can focus on them. All thoughts go on pause so that I can pay attention to the here and now.
The best way to describe this guy’s routine is that he treats package delivery like a game show and you have to guess what’s in the package or who sent it to you before he’ll give it to you. He will give it to you anyway, this is just a bit of fun to make something ordinary a little less ordinary.
Perhaps it’s his way of ensuring that the packages get delivered to the right destination – the addresses around here are confusing. Or perhaps he does it to make you remember him. It humanises him, it makes him stand out, and in this world where we’re all moving at such a rapid pace, we often operate on automatic and sometimes treat others as automatons, because we’re automatons. So when someone reminds us that they’re human, they remind us that we’re human too. It snaps us out of the bubble which keeps us detached from life and reconnects us.
Or something like that.
The comment the delivery guy made this morning stuck with me long after he had gone. And gave me something to write about for a post.
At the moment I’m not feeling in a smiling frame of mind, nor am I feeling particularly communicative. My thinking is taking me places where I’m more likely to gnash my teeth, growl, groan or scream an angry rebel yell.
But my anger is an innie rather than an outie. It goes on inside and only occasionally escapes into the outside world, usually through my eyes or through a sharpness in my voice.
Mostly when I’m in this kind of a mood, I isolate myself to work things through, to let it pass. I’m not keen on baring and sharing it. I don’t want to pass it on or add to anyone else’s load, but more than that I don’t want anyone else to add to mine, which includes trying to cheer me up – what if I don’t want to cheer up? Now I have to be cheerful to make whoever is trying to cheer me up feel better, if I don’t cheer up then I have to add their disappointment at their failure to control my mood to my pile of things making me not happy and smiley.
If I wanted to be cheerful, I would be cheerful. Yes, it’s as simple as that. I have been controlling my moods since I was a child, so it’s child’s play. During my years of mood control, I’ve learned that sometimes it is best to let a mood be what it is and accept it, let it flow so it can go wherever it needs to go. Get to know it, get to know the weather inside and who knows what wisdom it will bring, what will grow after the rain, what the storm will uncover, reveal, release. Controlling the weather seems like a good idea, but humans have lots of good ideas which… in hindsight were rather bad ideas.
Just because I’m not smiling doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten how to do it. And just because I’m smiling…
Bringing my smile to my attention kicked up some memory dust. Since I had been exploring my memories this weekend, the door to access the old and ancient files was wide open, as were all the filing cabinets, with files strewn hither and thither.
It reminded me of a day many eons ago when I was a teenager at school. I had just been thrown out of an exam for cheating. I hadn’t been cheating, but the supervisor of the exam didn’t care. He had been itching to exercise his newly acquired authority, strutting back and forth around the classroom like a prison guard hoping to catch someone in an illegal act, and I acted as a lightning rod for a petty tyrant in the making.
I was sitting alone in the school yard afterwards, fuming. I was angry for many reasons, one of which was that I knew most of the other pupils had been cheating. No one really wanted to cheat, but it was one of the only ways to get a passing grade in the exams at this school, and pupils were often encouraged (and aided) by their parents to cheat. My parents didn’t care if I passed, they barely cared if I went to school at all, but it did get me out of the way during the day. So I was not encouraged in any way at all by anyone to do anything. I was left to my own devices, and so, like the idiot that I am, I refused to cheat… and then got thrown out of the exam for cheating. It didn’t really matter, I was going to fail the exam anyway, but it was the principle of the situation which bothered me.
As I was running through all of this in my mind, a casual friend appeared beside me and announced their presence to me with the words – Why aren’t you smiling, you always smile, what has happened? Their demeanour was both alarmed and concerned. I recall feeling guilty for not being my usual smiling self for them, and feeling even guiltier for not being able to tell them that the end of the world was nigh and we were all going to die. I knew that telling them what had happened would be seen as nothing worth getting upset about. It certainly wasn’t a smile stealer.
Some years later something very similar to this happened. It was during one of the worst periods of my life, when each day was agonising and I was certain that I would not survive the year, and each year that I survived I was certain that I did not have the strength to make it through another year. I was miserable all the time, but I smiled when around other people. I wasn’t putting on a brave face, I just knew that other people had their own difficulties and they didn’t need me to add mine to theirs. I knew there was nothing that they could do for me even if I shared. I also knew that I was the designated happy person, who others expected to brighten their day with my carefree attitude and smiles.
One day I forgot to smile, and someone confronted me. They were a kind soul, who had struggled hard, had a difficult life, and when they compared their life to what they knew of mine, they thought that I was lucky and therefore didn’t have any reason to do anything other than smile all the time. They told me so that day. It was their way of telling me to cheer up, and I understood what they were doing, but…
It was just one more nail in a coffin of silence, a funeral of the truth where the mourners must smile and be merry.
Many years later, while standing to one side on a not a particularly busy street, trying not to get in anyone’s way or draw attention to myself while waiting for a friend to pick me up. I was deep in contemplative thought, running through everything which had led up to that moment on that day. It was a day of culmination. I had made an important decision and was both elated and troubled. When a blast from a car horn shattered my focus. A stranger leaned out of his car window and told me to smile.
It’s a strange world in which we live.