Posts Tagged ‘smile’

Let me ask you a question… 

When you hear “photo-time, smile for the camera” do you panic and find you have a sudden urge to hide in the bathroom until the photo taking is finished?  Do you instinctively cover your face with your hand? Do you suffer through comments like “what are you so unhappy about?” when you’re only aware of feeling good?   Does the helpful suggestion “Smile!”  make you want to cry?  When you meet someone new and offer them your best smile, do you recognize the flash of awkwardness and discomfort that crosses their face in a micro-second before they recover enough to greet you?  When you’re un-self-consciously enjoying yourself, talking and laughing and smiling freely, do you notice others staring, looking away, or looking uncomfortable because of you?  If not, if you don’t relate to situations like these, maybe, without realizing it, you have “smile privilege”.  What I mean by this is, maybe you have the privilege of enjoying a normal smile without ever giving it a thought.

I know I did.  Until I lost the ability to simply smile with fullness and ease.   I never considered what an elemental gift it is to be able to communicate openly with a smile — a simple and effective non-verbal instantaneous communication that says “I like you.  I am interested in you.”   Psychologists know that smiles have a powerful and instinctual effect on us as humans.  The simple act of smiling is often contagious; people typically react favorably and are more comfortable around you when you are smiling. Who doesn’t take for granted the fact that smiling transmits happiness, friendliness, warmth, and liking.  So, if you smile frequently, you will be perceived as being more likable, friendly, warm and approachable.   bp half smileBut for those who can’t smile, the loss is very, very real. The immediate, non-verbal communication is broken, the person may subliminally be perceived as unfriendly, unlikeable and unapproachable.  Two-plus years with residual Bell’s Palsy and permanent facial nerve damage to one half of my face, leaving me without the ability to move the muscles that automatically produce facial expressions, has certainly opened my eyes to the unexamined ‘smile privilege’.

And led me to be thinking about all kinds of other privilege as well.  You know, the things we take for granted that make life easier, if we think about it.  Like, for example, ‘white privilege’.  Or, if you’re female, you bump into ‘male privilege’.  Put these together, and you get the Biggie:  White Male Privilege, or WMP.

Our denomination has been working carefully at a program called the Damascus Road Project: Dismantling Racism.  This process begins when the “light goes on” so to speak, and we’re “knocked off our horses” and are transformed.  Until we recognize, personally, that we  — racially white in the United States of America I mean — live with an unexamined prerogative to access, education, acceptance, inclusion, familiarity, etc, we can have no concept of racism and white privilege.   If you are white, since when did you go to a drugstore to buy bandages, and choose the package that says “flesh-colored”.  Really?  Whose flesh?

I always thought racism was contemptuous, prejudicial, biased thoughts and actions.  “I’m not racist,” I would have insisted, “Look at my African-American friends.  Remember, I’m the one who got rocks thrown at me over the hedge and teased ‘nigger-lover’ by other children in my neighborhood, for playing with the kids of a family from Nigeria.  I’m not the one who’s racist.”  Only lately have I come to understand that racism is much more subtle than being overtly prejudiced.  It begins with ignorance of the privilege that comes with being white.  It begins with taking something as simple as bandages for granted.  And the process of dismantling it begins with recognizing, in the first place, that privilege exists.  The same goes for sexism, I might gently add.  Or Good Healthism.

Which brings me back to smiles.  If you’re a “smilist”, I hope that the next time you smile today, you will enjoy the privilege, bask in the ease and access it provides you, and delight in its rewards.  And then smile again, for me, and for all those who live with Facial Nerve Palsy.

When 1 + 1 equals 2.
Brain confusion: Which side of the face do you automatically respond to??

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Some days the delight and joy seem like just too much. The air is clear and clean and sparkling, and the rich green is deep and all around, and the birds and bees and butterflies are busy in the gardens. You could drown in the fresh ferns down in the woods if you strolled there, along the brook. This is my world as I sit on the back porch step and try to take it all in.  I feel a tear rolling down my cheek. I am remembering yesterday.

Yesterday, dead-heading iris out among the perennials with the warm sunshine on my back, I was ambushed by peaceful quiet joy as I noticed the blooming zinnias; simple, strong uncomplicated petals. They required nothing of me. They simply were. And they were simply perfect. Three pretty blooms, smiling, and I smiled back, filled with gladness. and gratitude.

Immediately sorrow and anguish swelled and tumbled out at as well, without invitation. My smile, which I felt emerging from a deep, happy place in my soul, caught on my face and twisted. As I felt my cramped cheek muscle contort my smile into a snarl, the grief of living with Bell’s Palsy hit me afresh, as it does daily, and I sobbed there alone in the garden.

We don’t think much about our faces. We sort of take them for granted. We don’t really contemplate that the expressiveness of our face is the reflection of our soul to the world. Until it doesn’t work. For most of us, without disability, we merrily go about living our lives, smiling and laughing at what brings us joy, crying, frowning, speaking our words without trying to manage half our tongue at the same time, expressing and releasing all manner of unintended emotion.

When half of your face is paralyzed, half of your soul stays locked behind in the prison of immobile muscles. And for some of us with BP, healing nerves bring spasms and contractions, often ending up with unusable hypertonic muscles that keep the cheek and lip drawn up in unpleasant contortion. It hurts when the photographer says “smile” and you know you are smiling as big as you can, and the result is something that looks more like a sneer. It hurts to know that you ruin everyone else’s picture, so you stop smiling and learn, with concentration, how to produce a small facsimile. It is lonely there.

And so, smiling at the zinnias, I burst into tears, bumping into my prison bars out there alone in the garden. The zinnias, unperturbed and requiring nothing, smiled back.

This morning, with my steaming mug of black french roast coffee, sitting on the back porch steps and soaking up the glory of this place in which I get to live, my tear is in gratitude for my zinnia.  I realize that if half of the petals yesterday had been curled or distorted, I wouldn’t have been blessed and delighted, but would have turned away.  It is a challenge to my faith to remember to believe that my value, and therefore my beauty, is secured in the heart of my Creator.  He is unperturbed and requires nothing of me, but to bask in his love and in turn offer that love to all I meet.  That’s the same journey we’re all on, and now I’m trying to learn that I can do that even with half a face.

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