it’s all in a smile

Swirling leaves tumbled from drying yellow trees whose stripped trunks arched towards the sky. Through puffed clouds, a silver-grey sun pulsed aching beams of light towards a windy autumn morning. Nina squinted her eyes towards the sun’s insistent light, but felt the clouds were much too thick to permit the warmth her body desired. So, she rounded her shoulders and hunched under her warm beige wool jacket and flung the navy scarf around her neck just a bit tighter, warning the wind to keep its distance.
Nina jostled herself into the front seat of her car and slammed the wind outside. She adjusted her jacket, snapped on her seat-belt and fluffed her hair, smoothing it from her face. “What an invigorating morning,” she thought and smiled. She felt a glowing presence of protection in the midst of winds that promised a striking seasonal transformation in the coming hours.
As she clicked the ignition, the gauge for gasoline registered just a bit below one fourth. She remembered, as a little girl, her father’s words of caution, “Never let the tank get below a half, especially in colder weather.” She never really knew why, but because Dad had always been in transportation, way back during his military days and then again with the state’s department of transportation, she trusted his judgment, probably based on experience. A smile again turned at the corners of her mouth, and her heart, now beating with the awareness of a sixty year old, opened to feel her memories of Dad. His passing in these autumn months of so many years gone by always brought him closer to her heart year after year when leaves lost their green and were swept away by colder winds. Especially at these times, she would discover secret moments to remember his silly jokes, his ready smile and twinkling hazel eyes. Visions of how he would keep his hair cropped short on the sides, a neat technique remaining from days of military discipline, floated in her mind. Yet, she remembered, those few tousles of black curls that would top his head in rebellion. How Nina missed his stories, his laughter and his reassuring presence.
She remembered, too, his intensifying depression as his diagnosis became more cemented in harsh reality, how his smiles faded and his resignation distanced him from his usual character. His eyes gazed far-away and his soul began to withdraw from those who loved him. Even a soldier’s courage falters when death creeps into life, predicted and imminent.
Nina decided to pull into the first service station at the corner of the roadway. The station serviced mostly repairs as an authorized service center. There were two old gasoline pumps standing straight in reverent salute, waiting for customers. Paint chipped from much of the metal that surrounded the station; the pumps worked, but their condition attested to a long history of better days. Older cars waited in limbo for the two occupied service bays to be free – some were missing tires, others had cracked windshields or a rusted fender. It seemed like a corner haven where old, well-worn cars sadly waited for reconstruction or destruction for salvageable parts…a place of little freshness or life. Gasoline advertised as cheaper here than other more modern-looking gas stations, so Nina turned the wheel and inched her car near the pump. A short young man approached with large dark glasses, hair hidden under a black bandana and grunted.
Wearing jeans greased with stains and rough hands, he walked past the car and pulled a lever to start pumping the gas. “Good morning. Ten dollars regular, please,” announced Nina with a light-hearted voice. The young man didn’t look anywhere near her. “Ten,” he repeated and mumbled a bit more to himself under his breath. Nina thought he was talking with her so she turned towards him. He gazed out into the street of streaming traffic. His chiseled face and caramel skin froze hard facing towards another world away from the service station. It was almost as if he wasn’t anywhere near where he was physically standing.
As he finished pumping the gas, Nina smiled and decided to break his trance. “Thank you so much, but I think that you should take the time to smile…you’re such a handsome young man!” Nina handed him the $10.00 bill as his hand took the cash. He was stunned, transfixed and speechless. Nina continued. “I’m an excellent judge of character and I can just tell, you have so much going for you..handsome, personable, likeable…you really should smile more!” A few words fell incredulously from the young man’s rounded lips, “Why thank you so much, ma’am….but sometimes, it’s not all that easy.”
“That’s true,” replied Nina, “but a smile makes that little difference between just getting through the day and maybe making it a bit more enjoyable for you and whomever you meet. AND it makes you that much more handsome! I’ll be back again and keep that smile! ” Nina’s grin stretched as the young man’s contagion now worked into his own brand of widening smile. “Well, God bless you, ma’am….and thank you. God bless you.” Nina drove carefully from the service station and glanced in the rearview mirror to see a full smile and friendly wave from the handsome young man.
How powerful the strength of a positive word or comment of appreciation can be! Taking the time to notice and say something nice to someone might just raise them from their own personal doldrums, if even just for a moment. A compliment can rattle someone enough to shine a different perspective on an all-consuming situation or environment. Try being a catalyst for change…and make sure that change is a positive one. Then with a sincere heart, sit back and watch transformation take place!

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