When I, always the initiator, smile at a stranger and the stranger smiles back, it puts a musical note in my step. Or in my pedal, as was the case on Christmas Eve day.
I was on a long bike ride from New Jersey to Staten Island and, when a driver stopped to allow me to cycle across the street, I smiled.
He smiled back, and when I mouthed “Merry Christmas,” his grin broadened, then he wished me the silent same.
Maybe it was due to the season to be jolly that our connected smiles filled me with an extra dollop of glee.
Sometimes, upon passing a stranger on the street, I exhibit the demi-smile. If the stranger does not return the greeting, then I’ll appear to have been deep in thought or to have been pressing my lips together as part of a squint on a sunny day.
The demi-smile is also useful on social occasions, as it helps smoothe out upper lip lines, lift the jowls, and minimize Howdy Doody creases that flank the mouth.
When my youngest daughter was in high school, she wrote an essay called “Smiling Stranger,” about how she loves to go jogging and smile at everyone she passes and how it cheers her when they respond in kind.
She, typically of limited memory, recalled a joyful moment more than a decade earlier when she was in the single digits, agewise. We were in Hong Kong, and we passed a bus, and she locked eyes with a passenger on that bus, and they both smiled.
It may seem counterintuitively sunny for a worrywart like yours truly to seek every opportunity to exchange smiles with strangers. But a friendly encounter with someone unknown to me is uncomplicated and distracts me from whatever worry I’m dwelling on, if only temporarily.
I have a fantasy of being like a lady I read about, who made coffee for her burglar and convinced him to mend his ways.
(But not like the woman who turned up in a Google search: “Woman captures Burglar, Makes him a sex slave, Fed him Viagra and water for 3 days, ‘until he learned his lesson.’”)
Here’s how another friendly fantasy goes: I own my own coffee place and every morning I greet my regulars with a smile. Problem is I stay up late and could never get up that early. So maybe I could just get a job in a coffee place. But I might not want to go every day. Then I always arrive at the same conclusion, that I can just go to a coffee place and sip a cappuccino.
Studies say married people and those with pets live longer. It’s the interaction with other living creatures. A writer spends a lot of solitary time, which pleases me, and I believe that a snoozing hound balled up against my hip, as well as an encounter with one friend or another every day, will extend my life.
And on the days I don’t see a friend, I’m counting on smiling strangers to help me outlive actuarial predictions and get my face on the Smucker’s jelly jar for living into triple digits.
How do you interact with strangers? Are you a smiler? A schmoozer? An avoider?
See my latest Home Goes Strong articles: