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Touched by a Smile

Sartorial Risk

All humans want to be seen. It’s a basic need… I also wanted very much to see…sharing the gaze, feeling connected. I needed the 2-way street, the exchange, the relationship. ~Amanda Palmer, The Art of Asking

I looked up. Our eyes met. She smiled. I smiled. She continued walking.

I had looked up just before she passed the table where I was sitting, outside, scribbling in my notebook. I scribble at least one full page in my notebook most every morning before signing my page in a stylized ‘DAVID’ then heading into the office for my days enjoyment – I like my job. It’s a small, ritualized time of creativity that sets the stage for my day.

For some, expressing themselves creatively is a hobby. For me, it’s a necessity – it is breathing. If I don’t create daily, I don’t feel like a whole human being. Starting my morning with a creative episode prepares me to address the day in a more productive fashion. Those days I don’t create before work, I feel a bit askew, awry, aslant, off-center, off-kilter less effective in my ability to coach the teams of people entrusted to my care. Those days I don’t create before work, I feel I am cheating the people I coach.

It was the merest moment of interaction between the woman and me. I was not only looked at, as I am hundreds of times each day, I felt seen. I was acknowledged. I was humanized when this one stranger in a thousand chose to not look away when our eyes met, chose to deny conventional norms and break down an invisible barrier, chose to look at the stranger in the red bow tie sitting at the table near the Picasso and proffer a smile.

I thought later that she may have simply been amused at the unusualness of a bow tie in a work world that has gone steadily casual over the decades, a work world where jeans and a polo are more common than slacks, button down shirt, sport coat, and a tie (or an old school bow tie). It was not laughter. She looked directly into my eyes and smiled, a smile without laugh lines, a genuine smile.

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~Maya Angelou

Other than being a blonde, I have no recollection of what the woman looked like. I remember she smiled. I remember how the smile made me feel, a feeling lasting infinitely longer than momentary interaction.

I was not a tree, a table, any of the hundreds of drones scurrying into the office on this delightfully brisk morning ignoring and being ignored, avoiding and being avoided. I was, if only for an instant, a person. I was, if only in the moment, a human worthy of eye contact and a smile, a being worthy of connection.

The connection inspired me. The intimacy provoked me to change the direction of my scribblings and muse on the phenomena of human connection.

Eye contact is not all that common in the city. Usually, heads turn the away the moment two people realize they were caught looking at each other instead of beyond each other. It’s a reflex. How sad that we have developed an automatic response to keep others at bay, an automatic response designed to avoid connection, avoid human connection, quiet the whisper of intimacy.

Connection, intimacy is a gift one gives when acknowledging the existence of another human being. It says I value you. All it takes is a simple moment of bravery to make eye contact and smile at a total stranger. It’s a gift I will pay forward today. It’s a gift we should all pay forward every day because all humans have a very basic need to be seen.


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