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  • Writer's pictureStuart Sheldon

Wooden Ships

Stuart Sheldon, The Name On Everyone's Lips, acrylic and collage on panel, 2003

Stuart Sheldon, The Name On Everyone’s Lips, acrylic and collage on panel, 2003

“If you smile at me I will understand. That is something everybody everywhere does in the same language.”

This opening lyric from Crosby Stills & Nash’s Wooden Ships is one of the reasons I wanted kids. To get back to fundamental human connection. To truly see and be seen by another. Without the ambiguity and nuisance of words.

Kids know a real smile when they see it. And they respond in kind 999 out of 1000 times. Adults, on the other hand, sadly, and not without reason, often feel the need to walk a bit faster, look straight ahead and remain vapor-locked in our force fields … to protect ourselves from insincere eyes and worse.

It is hard to look directly into someone else’s eyes for more than a second or two … even, to a degree, my own children. Like looking into the eyes of the sun. Of course, I do it as often as possible with my boys, because, as the Manfred Mann song says, “That’s where the fun is.” More importantly, that’s where the truth is. My eldest cannot look at me when he is guilty of some indiscretion. He has no future in poker.

Our most profound communication happens without language: smiling, crying, holding hands, punching, making love (ok, maybe a few words here). I once had a one hour “conversation” with an elderly security guard in Israel completely via gestures. He spoke no English and I no Hebrew. But, seated side-by-side on a bench in the cool of nightfall, watching his gnarled, tan hands and bright eyes, I learned about his job, his children and his general worldview. We hugged when we departed.

Try this – For the next hour, smile at everyone you see. Not big drippy dumb-ass smiles. Just tip-of-the-hat, twinkle-in-the-eye gestures that tell the other you wish them well. I’ll bet you five bucks you’ll collect a pocketful of sunshine. And, for those folks who look away or seem ill at ease by your kindness, just realize that they have been wounded somewhere down the line. So smile again next time. And the next. It won’t cost you a thing.

“My religion is kindness,” said the Dalai Lama. Mine is too. And my sacrament is a toothy grin.

Make me smile – add a comment below.

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