Smiles, nods, gracious speaking are such small gifts that we can give one another, yet I'm convinced that they hold this broken world together. Grieving my dead son, I've fallen apart literally everywhere over anything. And people have been unfailingly kind! No one has looked at me as if I were weak, socially inept, or dense. I've received pats on the shoulder, kleenex, kind words, and even hugs.
Sometimes when I'm smiling or nodding to someone, I'm not only being kind to a stranger but also combating my own interior prejudices. I'm admitting to myself that as an old white lady (I'm seventy) I tend to be anxious in the presence of strong, young black males. Walking in my St. Lawrence neighborhood in Buffalo's inner city towards Raymondo's, the neighborhood pizzeria, I will pass young, strong black males, quietly going about their business. I'll smile, say "hi," and nod, affirming to them - and myself - that we're neighbors. I always receive very kind smiles in return. Some seem surprised that an old white lady would single them out for a smile. Another small mend to the incredibly huge crack of prejudice! And sometimes, they smile and nod to me first!!
Sometimes I've been shy and nervous approaching a group of Puerto Rican women friends, chattering away in Spanish. They've immediately switched to English to welcome me, give me warm hugs, draw me in. And then I've enjoyed listening to their subsequent conversation conducted in both Spanish and English, listening to the flow of bright words, watching the lifting and swaying of gentle hands so reminiscent of my Italian relatives.
Recently at a wake, I saw two young women with a little girl between them holding both their hands and swinging. The young women's subtle body language expressed that they were a couple - and I could sense their awkwardness, perhaps anxiety, at being in a room surrounded by "straights." I quietly pointed this out to my Deacon husband.
We made it our business to tell them how beautiful their little girl was, and to talk to them at the funeral breakfast the next day. We didn't say a lot, we smiled a lot. But their returning smiles were beautiful. How much they loved this child! We could see the amazed joy and gratitude in their eyes over her presence in their lives. Gazing at them, I gained new insight into a world of individuals and family structures that were new to me.
Smiles, nods, gentle words build bonds between people - because they're usually returned. Most people just can't help but smile back, and then eyes meet - and bridges are crossed, worlds encounter each other. We're actually sharing together in the sunshine warmth of God's love, affirming that Kindness and Love are the most powerful, unifying forces in the universe!