It was never my intention to start this blog to share my own smile story. But I think it’s important to mention that I was not always “smiley” and here’s why:
My father left when I was young – age 5 or 6. My mother at her capacity for forgiving his constant cheating, sought out a divorce. So he decided to move across the country, knowing that he would not be a part of my sister and I’s life. My six year old conclusion – men leave.
I also learned men were heartless at a tender age.
Why else would a grown man, my cousin’s father, use a racist slur to describe my lips in front of my peers. “Look at you with those —– lips”, he jokingly laughed. I remember feeling paralyzed for about 3 minutes. When I realized no one was going to defend me I had no choice but to sling my own verbal attack right back at him. I made sure he knew he was neither cute enough or good enough to make me feel less than. I never told my mother, I just handled it. And as a kid, growing up in my tribal community, episodes like these were common. Yes there was love too, but you had better toughen up – early and fast.
Then enters a married man from my community to leave his impression. He tried his best to get my newly divorced mother wrapped into his web of infidelity. He worked at my mother’s summer camp job and I, always by her side, didn’t trust him from the jump. He would tell me to “go for a walk” so he could be alone with my mother. I rolled my eyes as if to say “yeah right” and stayed right by my mother’s side. My mother never fell for his smooth ways and he eventually moved onto an easier target. But I hated – more like loathed him for years.
It’s pretty clear that by the age of 16 I didn’t have daddy issues, I had male issues. I was so deeply disappointed in them. And I was skilled at making sure they knew I did not need their attention, compliments or validation. Sure I had male friends, but when friend vibes turned into googly eye vibes…Peace Out. And can you imagine the repulsion I felt when a strange man would tell me to smile? YUCK.
But my story doesn’t end there.
I was eventually old enough to travel. I lived out of the country for a few months. I worked on my personal faith. I met people. I listened to their stories. I became a dental hygienist. I listened to even more stories. And I realized there is no protective hedge around any of us. I also learned that even though I was able to defend myself at an early age, not everyone has that ability. And who’s to say if verbal abuse had been physical abuse that I would not perpetuate the hurt and pain that hurt people often do.
My empathy started to develop…
I ended up marrying an honorable man. He patiently helped me to see that the distorted examples of men in my life were not the only versions of a man. He taught me a balanced view of empathy. He patiently waited for my ego to deflate and for me to recognize that my experience was not the end all be all. He respected my triggers and helped me see it’s only right to treat him with respect too.
Where has this gotten me?
I can tell you this: the three men that had a negative impact on my childhood – I forgave them. I hold no negative feelings towards them except pity. My father obviously had traumatic experiences in his childhood. I don’t know what they were but maybe one day we can talk it out.
The married man…I’m actually proud of him. He mastered his bad behaviors and lived the rest of his marriage as a faithful husband. And when I come across him, I don’t even think about his past.
So here I am today. On a mission to share the real power behind smiling – gratitude, forgiveness and compassion. Not everyone can smile, not everyone will smile and that’s okay. I want to curate smile stories with the hope they help or inspire someone else to get to that place of the richest smile of all – the smile from the heart.
Listen to the “Nevertheless She Smiled” playlist – click here.