Chaotic frenzy: that is the best definition that fit the situation we were in! San Francisco, California, the seventh largest airport in the U.S., teemed with people representing nearly every nationality on the face of the globe. In the large passages that led to the hundreds of gates, very few were in a state of calm. It seemed nearly everyone was running for a gate, trying to make a mad dash to board the next flight. Some were running, some merely walking at a fast pace, others were getting on the moving walkway (and still walking fast!). Some were shouting at each other as they expressed impatience, fear of missing a flight, or enduring the final straw caused by a child who saw no need to be in a rush. All were making their way to or from the entrances or exits of their chosen airlines, hurrying to another destination. Only a small percentage were moving at a normal pace.
The yelling, the “trying to be heard” scenario brought a cacophony of voices with so many languages it was overwhelming. Never have I seen so many diverse people in my life! To hear English spoken was to hear a bit of “home” in an area where one felt as though English–not Latin–might be the forgotten language! Few people looked at anyone as they scurried their way: their gazes were locked straight ahead, with a single-minded focus that in itself held many lessons.
We had arrived from our flight across America, from a comfortable size town where friendliness is taken for granted. As we passed the myriad of people, overwhelming is the best word that comes to mind. Not because of the tremendous crowds, but because of the lack of connection between those hurrying to and fro. Eventually I noticed a small, elderly woman of Asian descent sitting on a bench in the passageway. For some reason our eyes connected and I gave her a smile. She smiled back, shy but willing to communicate through language barriers to the heart. It was a good two seconds out of the day. And so I began my trek of seeing how many would meet my eyes, and share a smile. Perhaps the number wasn’t huge, but it was still that thread of crossing lines that divided socially, economically, racially, and nationalities. It was satisfying to know that underneath all the unknowns of someone else’s culture there was a thread that can bind us all together if we let it: a smile.
This may not seem like a big deal to you, but there was a lesson here that struck at my heart. We are not a bunch of haphazard, unfeeling “homo sapiens” placed on a planet to endure until the day of our death. We all have common things that matter to each of us, whether it’s a family, children, money worries, food or whatever, but sharing a smile is a moment out of time that brings our lives together. It can create unplanned but gratifying moments in our day of otherwise staying within ourselves.
Perhaps it’s the reason people are willing to go to other countries to serve those whom they don’t know, whether it’s through the churches, government organizations, the Peace Corp, or as individuals. The slight connection of a smile becomes a desire to make the lives of others better–not better as in money, but quality. Quality where they don’t have to worry about where their next meal will come from as we teach them to fish, or as we dig water wells so they don’t have to walk miles for a bucket of water, and so much more. When you see how much the elderly women ache in their shoulders and backs from the years of carrying heavy water pots, grain, or food on their heads, you hurt in your own body, as they do in theirs. The small five or six-year old’s who have to carry their little brothers and sisters are not building strength alone–they are creating the beginning of lives who know the burden of work from the time they are little.
So maybe a smile is not something that really matters to you. But you have one deep inside you, and it might–just might–bless some stranger today if you give it away. It costs you nothing but a second of your time, and may be the only smile they get today. Pass it on!
Lord, I know I often go about my business with a single-minded focus, my mind of the list of tasks that need doing, and I miss the opportunities to share a smile. Please forgive me, for I know You did not lose any of those moments of connection, and looked with compassion on all You saw while You walked the earth. Help me to be mindful that my second greatest responsibility is to love my neighbor, and it can start with one smile. Thank You for Your love, Lord. Amen