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Just start with a Smile

My son, Matt, and I found ourselves on the bustling streets of Manhattan last week. My boy sticks around no matter where I am. Sometimes he just quietly goes along for the ride, but this particular day was one of those times I felt his whisper in my heart. When I sense him there I know it’s time for me to become intentional, more aware of even the smallest sights, sounds and bits of information around me. And that’s when Mother Teresa entered my day.

My cousin and I were browsing the Julliard Bookstore – she, looking for a theory book to help one of her piano students, and I, perusing in an awestruck kind of tourist way. I certainly wasn’t expecting to find the wisdom of a selfless missionary, canonized saint and Nobel Peace Prize winner in a place where music, dance and theater accessories are featured. But there she was, resting in a book I was leafing through about creativity; her words jumped off a randomly-chosen page.

“Spread love everywhere you go . . . Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.”

These words immediately focused my thoughts toward all those occasions that bring both random strangers and well-loved others directly into my life: times of travel and vacation, Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter holidays, various life meetings, memorials and celebrations . . . and on and on. This day, her words set me on the streets I’ve been wandering in both New York City and Princeton. They made me think about the hundreds of strangers I’ve been encountering over the past few days on trains, subways, the campus of a bustling university, a beach-fronted island get away, and the overflowing big-city sidewalks I’d been roaming.

I’ve considered why these words, within all the other pages I scanned, were the ones that made me pause. I think it’s because I needed a reminder. I’ve let life get busy and now realize I’ve had too many encounters with others when I’ve let them be all about me. But meeting in the same space and time with another living being must never be only about me. It’s important to me that no one I encounter ever leave me feeling less, but instead can somehow walk away feeling “better and happier.”

So, I decided to just start with a smile. Though I know I could have been more consistent, I’m happy to report I have served up more smiles, laughs, honest eye contact, and times of quiet, deep listening to others since my son sent me to Mother Teresa. And my life, abundant with opportunities for fast-paced encounters with strangers as well as new friends and loved ones, has found more joy.

I wish you better and happier as we begin darker nights and holiday lights. May you not only feel the joy of being warmly welcomed as you walk into encounters with others, but also walk away knowing someone else is in a better place having had time with you – to see your smile, look into your eyes and feel your gratitude for common time together.

My heart always opens wider, filled with a kind of bittersweet joy, every time Matt blesses me with his knowing, gentle and compassionate smile. I send its radiance on to you . . . with my love.


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