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Forbidden smile

by Phil Callaway

 

There are seven wonders of the world. But for a child there are millions. We were in a mall and my granddaughter couldn’t get over how many people there were. Her parents are teaching her to be polite, so she had to say “hi” to everyone. And “bye” too. “Hi, hi, hi! Bye, bye, bye!” People were laughing. She pointed up at a mannequin and said, “Bumpa.” Which is me. That’s my name. I saw no resemblance at all. Except that the mannequin was completely bald. No wonder she thought it was me. Another of my granddaughters loves to say words like “car” and “plane.” “Car, plane, car, plane!” I think she wants to get away from us. If she says “passport,” lock the doors, we’re in trouble.

When our granddaughter Claira was only eight months old, her parents took her for her passport photo. Now, when I was a kid you didn’t need this. We barely had birth certificates. No one had ID. Sometimes I wonder if my siblings are my siblings at all. But if a baby is going to travel far these days she needs a passport. When Claira arrived, the photographer realized immediately that this girl would be a problem. She didn’t scream. It was worse. She wouldn’t stop smiling.

Now the thing about passport photos is this: You are forbidden to smile. It’s serious business. As serious as guarding the queen at Buckingham palace. Smiling is a cardinal sin. You can’t show your arms either, and Claira is constantly moving her arms, throwing them in the air. So my son held the little girl’s arms down as the photographer snapped pictures. Still Claira would not stop smiling. She smiled at the photographer. At his wife. At her parents. At a lampshade. She wouldn’t stop.

The photos kept coming out far too nicely. It was a disaster. So the photographer looked around for something—anything—to make her stop smiling. There were no lemons or prunes, so he dabbed her tongue with tissue paper. It didn’t work. The girl was incorrigible. “Stop smiling, Claira.” An 8-month-old doesn’t understand such commands. She smiled at the carpet, the lights, the camera. It was a catastrophe.

Finally the photographer picked the least smiley photo and—wonder of wonders—the passport office accepted it. Claira will be on an airplane in a few weeks, smiling I’m sure. By the time her next passport picture is taken, she’ll know better.

When I heard this, I laughed. Sometimes it takes a child to remind us to go ahead and smile. The world around us tends to steal those smiles. There’s stress. Bad news. Deadlines. Aches and emotional pains. Bills, ills, wills, and not enough thrills. Then a little child comes along and says, “Why so serious? Watch this.” And she smiles. Claira agrees with Phyllis Diller: “A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.”

I’m sure there are a dozen reasons to cry today, but there are many more reasons to rejoice, to laugh, to let go with a contagious grin. Here are just a few:

You’re a child of God. You’ve been forgiven. God loves you. He will never leave you. Eternity is waiting.

Ephesians 2 says, “God who is rich in mercy, gave us life when he raised Jesus from the dead.” We are eternally alive through Christ who loves us.

Claira doesn’t talk yet, but she says a lot. One smile from her and it’s like she’s talking straight from Numbers 6: “Hey Bumpa! ‘May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.’”

Don’t stop, little girl. In a world that drains our joy, you go ahead, throw your hands up and smile. That smile reminds me how quickly the years fly by. I can’t believe I have grandkids already. I’m sleeping with a grandma now. Life is short, so I need to be a fast forgiver. A faithful lover. A slow kisser. And a big smiler. Thanks for the reminder, Claira.

And if you’re all grown up like me, and you’ve forgotten where your smile is, don’t worry. It’s right there. It’s right underneath your nose.

1 Comments
  • Lori Hatcher
    3 months ago

    This is lovely. And yes, it made me smile. Thank you.

    reply
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