There are smiles, and then there are smiles. Some people smile easily. You see them staring out at you from photographs, smiling; for all intents and purposes having a good time. These are people who have a ready smile and for whom smiling into a camera comes easily. Others, no matter how hard they try, couldn’t smile into a camera if their life depended on it. Being of the latter group, it is easy to understand the frustration engendered by the command to “smile.” Our photographs are proof of the frustration and our expressions tend to make us look like a geek or, if we are lucky, merely surly.

We are the shy ones, the introverts who can genuinely smile, but never on command and never knowingly into a camera. We are embarrassed to do so, embarrassed to call attention to ourselves, as such overt smiling, often without a reason, is too revealing. A photograph of a bunch of introverts looks like you have photographed a wake. Place a smiler in with the group and the introverts fade into the background. I have known people to put a hand over their mouth when they smiled, sometimes to hide the fact that their teeth are bad, but sometimes because they are embarrassed. Unfortunately, that very act tends to call more attention to them than if the smile was left for all to see.

Of course, there are times when everyone will try to hide a smile, times when smiling is considered inappropriate. Occasions when the smiler has a mouth full of food and spares the rest of us the sight of some green vegetable caught between their teeth. Serious occasions often also demand that we retain somber expressions. It is then that some often unrelated idiocy will catch your attention and you feel a smile spreading across your face, despite your best efforts to suppress it. You lower your head and stroke your upper lip with your forefinger, hoping that propriety will return. Such situations can push you over the edge into actual humor and you feel a laugh bubbling in your gut at the exact point when the occasion is most somber. In the extremity, you turn the laugh into a cough, a cough which, if necessary, can grant you a semi-graceful exit from the room. I have found that it is best not to read the church bulletin too closely during the service. Prone to typos, mistakes such as “the babe was laid on the manger” and, a personal favorite, “go fart and sin no more” are especially dangerous if read at the wrong moment.

But I digress. We were talking about smiling, after all. Which brings me to the point of this particular piece. There are smiles which envelop the whole individual. Smiles of such genuineness that they communicate their sincerity to all that see them. I saw such a smile recently when I observed the smile of a woman, the mother of a friend, when she caught sight of her husband. It filled the entire room and was a joy to behold. Such smiles can be seen coming from people hidden in the background, smiles of pride as they watch someone close to them. Unbounded joy. But even such smiles are occasionally deliberately obscured. All that is apparent is a slight upturn in the lips and one needs to follow that upturn to the eyes. They shine.

Blessed is the one who is the recipient of such a smile. It turns an otherwise bad day on its head and you realize once again, not that you ever doubted it, that you are loved. That you are not always deserving of such a smile is another matter.