I have decided that my form of protest is smiling. I have always wanted to be more of a social activist but have just never been one to involve myself in large causes. I seem to stray away from any kind of cause that can not immediately have an effect on the thing I am trying to change. Maybe this is why I have always enjoyed protest as a solo act. Throughout my life I have done this in many ways- being a vegan, holding a protest sign on the side of a busy road day after day, spending my days reading novels, making art, spending the afternoon walking around when I should be working, turning American flags upside down and now I am smiling.
For the past few years I have been observing other people’s faces. I look at their faces while they walk down the street, sit at bus stops or drive their cars. One phenomenon that I have noticed is that the great majority of people have what look like grimace on their faces. The opposite of smiles. In the past year I have noticed that the sides of people’s lips have begun to droop even further downwards indicating a feeling of defeat and distress. Brows have become chronically furrowed and more and more people have wave-like distress lines on their foreheads. I began to feel that the smile was becoming in danger of extinction. As a result, one morning many weeks ago, I spent hours practicing my smile in my bathroom mirror. I also had unconsciously developed a chronic grimace and it was tiring to keep the sides of my lips and cheeks in an upright position. I had to retrain myself to smile by holding a smile for as long as I could and repeating the mantra “life is good” over and over. After a few days of practice I was able to keep a smile on my face all day long.
Every time that I leave my house I am actively smiling. I smile at whomever I pass by. I smile when I walk, talk and browse in the supermarket. I am making a conscious effort to look strangers in the eye and smile. Some people seem to appreciate this and reflect a shy smile back at me. Most other people seem to be put off by my smile and tell me this by looking the other way. I suppose unhappiness gets really comfortable after awhile and the sight of a person smiling at you may be too much to handle. I am compassionate about this so I do not take other people’s dismissiveness personally. What I do take personally is the people who seem to enjoy trying to wipe the smile right off my face.
There are always those few people who are so unhappy and miserable inside that they want the rest of the world to feel this way also. As a person who is making the conscious effort to save the smile from extinction I try to continue to smile at a person even when they are calling me “gay,” “idiot,” or any other derogatory term I have heard shouted my way. There have been a few men who have tried to physically attack me when I smiled at them- I assume this was because they are insecure in their own sexuality and assumed I was coming on to them. The other day I was run out of a record store because a large man with tattoos was threatening to cut my balls off because I was smiling at him. I admit, maybe I was partially to blame for this. The tattooed man looked so deeply angry that I had to smile at him a little bit longer than I should have.
I have heard it said that smiling is contagious but what I have found to be true is the opposite. Smiling can also be offensive. Maybe it is because we are living in a time where people are so stressed, over worked and worried about money that smiling represents a kind of mockery of the average Americans situation. People in America are really suffering at the moment and smiling as a result is not in fashion. I have found that to fit in you have to frown, or smile just a little bit. The person who decides to walk down a city street with a big smile on their face is considered to either be mentally ill or unstable in some sort of way. When I walk through the town where I live I am continually hearing names hurled at me from passing car windows. What I have heard most often as of late is “there is that smilist again.”
So be it.
Maybe I am the idiot but it is my belief that we create our reality from the inside out. There are things that happen to us that are beyond our control, but we do have control over how we choose to think about these experiences. If a person decides to shout a negative name at me, or be disrespectful towards me because I am smiling it is my choice whether or not I allow myself to get mad or just let it go and keep smiling. As far as I am concerned- if each individual does not take responsibility for his or her own inner well being, then the smile is doomed to become extinct. For now I will keep working to keep the smile alive. I will walk, drive, sleep with a smile on my face despite the danger that this seems to be putting me in. When others try to bring me down I will continue to smile. If they want to shout “smilist” from their car windows at me, then I will smile more. Please, if you can- join me and start smiling. Life is better this way.