The Magic of Smiles

Genuine smiles—the kind that spring from momentary happiness—lift my spirits in ways nothing else can. Those smiles can be on the faces of people I know or on the faces of strangers. They can be the smiles of people on the street or in in photographs;  photographs of smiles prompted me to think about the topic this morning. Of course I cannot be sure the smiles in the photos are genuine, but I am confident they are; because real smiles are so radiant the the entire face almost glows with happiness. The eyes, the cheeks, the lips—even the skin—radiate jubilation based on something akin to euphoria. The smile that triggered my thinking on the subject this morning was in a photograph of a Black woman combing her child’s hair. The smile, the only one among a series of photographs on the NPR website, was somewhat subdued, but it conveyed the momentary happiness I mentioned before. And, then, I looked at other pictures online and found other smiles that looked broad and boisterous. The ones that most effectively sparked my emotional appreciation were the ones that seemed instantaneous, as if provoked by an explosive moment of elation.

I know people whose smiles almost always lift my spirits. I think it is because I know the smiles are genuine, arising from parades of joy that emerge from their ways of viewing the world. Though I know otherwise, it seems they are perpetually happy and absolutely delighted to be alive in that moment. They have their moments of sadness or depression or fear, but their worldviews are generally positive. They embrace life with fervor and their smiles offer evidence of how much they relish being alive. I wish I could emulate their attitudes and embrace their emotions. I do, from time to time, but with a frequency that pales in comparison. Being in their presence is like consuming a magical elixir. It can be addictive.

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I learned this morning that Friedrich Otto Schott invented borosilicate glass in 1897. The glass is used to this day for pharmaceutical containers today. According to the company that bears Schott’s name, three-quarters of the world’s COVID-19 vaccine projects use its products. Corning, another famous name in the glass industry, caught the pharmaceutical industry’s attention when, in 2017, it introduced a product called Valor glass. BBC.com quotes Steven Fox, an analyst at the equity research firm, Fox Advisors, as saying, “It’s basically the Gorilla Glass for pharmaceuticals.”

This morning was the first time I’ve ever given even a passing thought to the need for specialized, high-strength glass in the pharmaceutical industry; I’ve had no reason to think about it. Or have I, and I’ve simply ignored it and let my brain push the idea to the side? Whatever the reason, something as important as pharmaceuticals often require exceptionally high-strength glass. In addition to protecting products stored in glass container from the dangers of rough handling, some of the tough glass bottles protect the products from delamination, which is a process which can allow microscopic slivers of glass to taint the pharmaceutical product.

The world is a fascinating place. I wish it could be safe from humanity’s propensity to turn spectacular advances in science and technology into weapons of hatred and war.

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We can learn things about ourselves from unexpected sources. Let me rephrase that; unexpected sources can prompt us to make reasonable assumptions about ourselves that we might not have made without considering those sources. I’ve been reading online about the behaviors of various breeds of dogs. Some dogs seem to do well interacting with other dogs, some don’t. Some dogs are friendly with people in general, some are one-person dogs. Some dogs, regardless of breed, can be trained to be either one-person dogs or completely human-friendly.

I’ve always considered myself to be more of a private person than a social person. I preferred to spend time alone and/or with my wife than to engaging socially. But now that my wife is gone, I find myself longing for company. It’s not that I have become suddenly social but, absent that one person with whom I was extremely close, I feel a desire for engagement that might help fill that gaping hole. What I’m learning is that I am a one-person dog who’s trying to train himself to be human-friendly. I’m also learning that I thrive best in an odd environment of isolation paired with extreme closeness.

But all of this may be wrong. It’s probably too early for me to know anything new about myself. Maybe there’s nothing new to learn. Perhaps it’s simply an early reaction to a situation I haven’t be exposed to in well over forty years.

I’ve definitely learned something from simply being who and where I am: people are closer to me than I had realized. Whether in Fort Smith or Alexandria or rural New Hampshire or Texas or Mexico or California  or Nova Scotia, etc., people are close to me. And right here in Hot Springs and Hot Springs Village is a pod of good, gentle, kind people who care.  I am fortunate, indeed.

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We grow by allowing ourselves to experience discomfort, whether physical or emotional. I’ve grown to dismiss physical discomfort as a tool for growth, though. Perhaps that’s exactly what I need, though; physical discomfort to enhance (grow) my physical health. Emotional discomfort is a perpetual mechanism for both intellectual and emotional growth. When we are too comfortable with the status quo, a little emotional discomfort—or a lot—can shock us into heightened awareness. We can realize that what we’ve been taught or what we’ve believed might be half-true or entirely false. We can see the world around us from a different perspective. But that emotional discomfort can be excruciating. It can challenge us mightily and we sometimes resist until the walls of comfort and certainty collapse and reveal hidden landscapes just over the horizon.

I think back to fifty years ago when homosexuality and was considered deeply deviant; skin color was either a blessing or a curse; the term “transgender” had not even been coined (to my knowledge); bisexuality was fundamentally wrong. Despite the fact that some people still cling to old, outmoded, inhumane ideas on these subjects, the world has changed, thanks to a lot of emotional discomfort. I wonder whether, in the next fifty years, more revolutionary emotional distress will lead to widespread acceptance and embrace of polyamory? What other human interactions and human characteristics might the world begin to recognize and acknowledge and accept?

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If I hadn’t allowed myself to get wrapped up in pseudo-philosophical ramblings, I could have already taken a shower. But, no. So, that’s next on my agenda. Now that I’ve addressed the joys and struggles of humankind.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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3 Responses to The Magic of Smiles

  1. A Future Delaminator says:

    Excellent advice, monsignor… Thank you.

  2. AFD, I sparkle, sir! My cleanliness causes me to shine and reflect light like a highly polished pharmaceutical glass container.

    The world is unpredictable; so even the monstrous deviance we’ve seen in recent years may become a vaporous memory in short order. We can hope so. Stay well yourself, sir, and do not drink from glass bottles that might contain slivers of glass. In other words, strain your beer through pharmaceutical grade filters.

  3. A Future Delaminator says:

    First off, let me say for all of us, that I hope you have showered by now… Secondly, you’re not alone! I have NEVER given thought to the need in the pharmaceutical industry for high-strength glass, much less the term delamination!!!

    Also, with slight slides back, the world continues to move forward in a progressive and more accepting direction… Times like these make us think that it’s all going to Hell in a poorly woven handbasket that has gotten a bit threadbare over time, and maybe it IS! But, we always seem to bounce back in reaction to the backsliders!

    Be well, my friend!

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