I’ve starting doing something totally unheard of in my hometown part of London. It’s a change I never thought I would implement. Instead of leaving my house with headphones secure, the real world blocked from my senses, I have begun to step outside feeling vulnerable.
Without noise cancellation, I’ve started to notice little things while walking around my student town. Most importantly, I’m smiling at strangers. I’m so used to keeping my head down, and staying out of people’s way, that I’ve never realised how rewarding this small thing can be.
Smiling at strangers wasn’t something I decided to do.
Without music, I was more aware of my surroundings. When passing people in my little suburban area, it just seemed rude not to give them some kind of acknowledgement.
I have to say, most people don’t smile back. Sometimes it just all goes too quickly, or they don’t happen to be looking at me as I do. Occasionally they do see me smile, and just choose to stare back at me anyway. I don’t mind that, I probably would have reacted that way when I lived in London.
The best moments are always when someone genuinely smiles back. It doesn’t take much, but the little smile of recognition I get always brightens the rest of my day. Sometimes I even get more than I bargained for!
One morning this week I smiled at a woman and her dog, and we ended up having a quick chat about the weather (as British people have to do), and then talking about her lovely Labrador. This dog was determined to get as wet as possible, and was running anywhere that looked remotely muddy. We both had a little chuckle over his exploits, and then I went on my way with a more permanent smile on my face.
There is also a lady of 92 years old (!) that regularly walks to and from the shops on a main street near me. When I smiled at her, I ended up helping her home with her shopping. She told me all about the people that used to live on the street, and how her husband had lived in their house all his life.
‘He’s dead, of course’ She said to me rather blandly, ‘everyone I’ve ever known or loved is dead.’ I could have cried.
The thing I realise is it might be my newfound expanse of time that has allowed me to pause to smile at strangers. When you’re in a rush, and you’re having a bad day, it’s really hard to think to acknowledge someone outside your own world.
Yet, these small moments in my day are now becoming the things that keep me feeling a bit lighter. Even if the smile I manage is just a small grimace of acknowledgement of the rain, or the busy bus, I think I’m going to try and keep this up. Who knows who else might feel a little lighter because of a smile?
If you enjoyed this post, why not check out ‘Smile! You’re on Camera: Memories from a Full-Time Foreigner’?