At Last A Smile

The news from the CDC has been very positive lately, and we’ve begun to experience the benefits. Though we haven’t yet dined indoors in a restaurant, I’ve had several social lunches outside and Stephen and I have twice had outdoor dinner dates with friends. And of course, we’ve been spending time indoors with our grandchildren–and don’t take a minute of that for granted. Last night we spent two hours cradling the twins in our arms and laps, thrilled with how attentive they’ve become, their eyes locking onto ours, their tiny fingers gripping ours.

I’ve been surprised at how quickly sharing meals with others, after a year of quarantining and sheltering in place for over a year, seemed natural to me. Some friends have reported anxiety and unease the first few times they were able to spend maskless time with their friends. I’ve experienced none of that. Not eating across the table from family and friends was difficult and painful for me. Shedding my mask, hugging, and sharing meals very quickly seemed natural and right.

At times I’ve wondered why I was left with so few after-images of the pandemic, while some of my friends are still hesitant to reengage with the outside world. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still careful, still wear my mask most of the time outdoors and inside shops. But I don’t hesitate to shed it whenever I can. I’ve even asked myself if I have left the trauma and pain of the pandemic, which still exists, too quickly behind.

Then this morning, Stephen and I took an early morning walk at the Berkeley Marina. It’s one of our favorite spots, the trail along the bay, the wide views of water and of San Francisco across the bay, and this morning, the clean, blue sky overhead. While a few months ago, most everybody wore masks at the Marina, this morning, many walkers had dropped their masks. We noticed this, but didn’t spend long thinking about the shift, until a robust African American man wearing a black headwrap passed us walking in the opposite direction, and smiled. As we continued on our way, his smile stayed with me for some time.

The next time we approached this man, I anticipated his smile and made a point of noticing as we passed. It was a full-faced smile, his teeth gleaming white against his ebony brown skin and his beard, his eyes crinkled at the corners. Once again, the smile stayed with me for several minutes.

By the third time we approached each other, I was eager to feel the happiness his smile triggered within me, and found myself smiling as we approached him. “You have a wonderful smile,” I told him as I walked by.

And then it hit me. For over a year, I haven’t been seeing people’s smiles. While l could often tell if a person was smiling behind their mask by the crinkling of their eyes, it had been a very long time since I had seen an actual smile, of the lips curling, teeth showing, cheeks rising, eyes crinkling variety. And it felt wonderful. More wonderful than any smile I had ever seen.

Emeryville


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