“Don’t inflict your mood on everyone.” This was a phrase I learned from my father. It was a well-placed admonition to his three teenagers—of which I was one—once upon a time. He was trying to teach us that each person wields a surprising power to enhance or diminish the atmosphere in a family with something as simple as a mood.
Who needs a mood ring to figure out what’s going on with someone? The human face expresses volumes. Our facial expressions, our smiles or grimaces, furrowed brow or wide-eyed wonder, puckered lips or pursed…are much more than our own possession; they are part of our self-gift to others. In fact, we rarely see what it is our own face is projecting to those we live with. Our unspoken language can bring an uncomfortable heaviness, like an itchy wool blanket on a warm spring morning. Or, it can bring a freshness and lightness like a soft spring breeze. Our body language can welcome, accept and comfort others, or it can reject, confront and even spurn those closest to us. Think of a mother in a relaxed posture in her rocking chair with open lap and open arms, verses a preoccupied mother with crossed legs and crossed arms. One invites the child to climb up and rest a moment; the other, by her very posture, thwarts it.
Our wordless communication can have powerful and lasting effects. A smile at the right moment can sear comfort into a memory, just as a hard look can sear fear. The good news is we are in control of our face and, to some extent, our mood. And the teenager who “inflicts her mood” on the household can become the generous adult who chooses a smile over a grimace, a soft look over a hardened glance, one who smooths her brow by choice…for others.
One of Mother Teresa’s famous sayings was: “Peace begins with a smile.” It might sound too simple and even trite, but I think it true. Have you ever been so annoyed, angry, or resentful of someone in your family that you could not even look at them? I suppose we all have been there. Oh how hard it is precisely in that moment to submit our feelings (note that I did not say suppress, but submit) to the higher faculty of our will and choose to look, and not only looking, but seeing them, smile. Smile. Forget for a moment what it may do for them, but what it will do for you? Your smile is a gift you pulled up from a deep down place and gave freely….No doubt it will melt some of your anger and warm some of the chill. Inside the home and out, the smile is a free gift we can offer to others. As the situation with the coronavirus wears on, we need not be helpless beneath the mood it brings. Peace does, in fact, begin with a smile.
In these days when human touch is, at the very least, highly-sanitized –if it is at all—and faces are dutifully masked (that’s the case here in New York, anyway), I’m noticing eyes more, and my heart lifts to see eyes that are smiling.
Mother Clare, CFR