John and I have a very predictable schedule on the days that I stay home with him, and in the afternoon, you can find us either at the park or at the mall, depending on the weather. Either way, our time is spent taking a long walk together and playing at the playground. John spends the walk nestled in his stroller, where he drinks, eats his snack, and waves at any passer-by who happens to walk past. If you happen to come across us, you will most likely be greeted with a wave and a very high-pitched ‘hi’ from my sixteen month old son.
John’s first word was ‘hi,’ and it remains his favorite. He’s been saying it for a few months now, and coupled with his cheeky little, squinty-eyed smile, he can be quite the charmer. More recently, John has added waving to his repertoire, so now it’s not that uncommon to find him smiling, waving, and greeting nearly any stranger who passes us. And the chances of being greeted by this little ham skyrocket if you’re a woman.
This past week, John and I spent a typical afternoon at our local mall. It had been raining on and off all day, so we were forced to remain indoors for our walk and playtime. At first John was just content watching people as they passed. Then a passing woman waved at him, and naturally, he was compelled to wave back. After that, he began waving at and greeting every person who made eye contact with him.
That’s when we encountered you. You were walking with your head down, taking long and quick strides, clearly anxious to be gone. But because your head was down, you were in the perfect position to encounter my son. He might have noticed your red-rimmed eyes; he might have sensed that something was wrong, but more likely than not, you just had the fortune of looking in the right direction.
My son does not yet know what can make eyes red like yours. He has known pain, but his experience of suffering is minimal. He has shed tears over bumped heads, undesirable naps, and forbidden snacks, but he has never known heartache. He has never experienced loss. He has never felt abandoned or alone.
I don’t know what feelings you were experiencing before you encountered my son. I don’t know what circumstances led to your lowered gaze, red-rimmed eyes, and fast gait. I don’t know what brought you to pass us at that particular moment on that particular rainy afternoon. I just know that you made my son smile.
When you made eye contact with my son, he smiled. He waved. He greeted you with a friendly ‘hi.’ He might have even tried to shake your hand. I know you weren’t expecting him. I know you were probably so wrapped up in your own suffering that you might not have realized that he was there at first. But then his innocence, his joy, woke you up. For a moment, you forgot about your pain, your loss, whatever had left you feeling abandoned and alone. For a moment, you felt relief.
When my son smiled at you, you smiled back. Your eyes were still red-rimmed, your cheeks still puffy from crying, but you smiled back. I am glad that despite your suffering, you were able to smile. You were able to find joy amidst your pain. You were able to smile when a little boy grinned at you.
I am glad that circumstances caused our paths to cross. I am glad that I chose to make the final lap around the mall before taking John to the play area. I am glad that you met my little boy. I am glad that he was able to make you smile.
I don’t know if we will ever meet again. If we do, I hope that circumstances are better. I hope that next time, there are no red-rimmed eyes and puffy cheeks from shed tears. I hope that next time, there are just smiles to be shared. But if not, then I hope that my son can bring a smile to your face. Because we all need the beautiful smile of an innocent child to pull us away from our own suffering from time to time.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!