What have I learned in my thirty-four-and-a-half years of life? It’s a reasonable question and one I asked myself while recently strolling through the Mission. Though I couldn’t come up with an answer (sorry, cultural trivia doesn’t count) I did start thinking about what an asshole I’ve been lately and how much easier life is when you’re not acting like an angry, jealous, cynical prick. I told myself, “Shawn, just remember…be friendly, be nice, smile.” And I thought that that’s as good a life lesson as any I’ve learned in my thirty-four-and-a-half-years.
As I walked down the street, I looked at all the people going about their daily lives: Men, women, children, young and old, some of them fat, some of them sick, some beautiful, some destitute. I thought about smiling at each person – really pulling them aside, one by one, maybe with a touch on the arm or with a stern but quiet: “Hey, come with me.” And I imagined smiling at each one, right in the face, my mouth stretched upwards directly in front of their eyes. I imagined how much better they’d feel about themselves, as if transfixed before a vision, and how much better I’d feel about myself. What a perfect exchange, symmetrical and free!
And then I imagined myself smiling all day, every day, for the rest of my life. It would be so easy. With such a simple formula, there would be no peak high enough that I could not reduce to my own personal success. But then, I looked once again at the people all around me, my eyes dropped to meet the sidewalk and I frowned. The idea of smiling continuously for such an extended period seemed to me like an eternity of low expectation and unimaginative obligation. I thought, “No, Shawn, it’s alright. You don’t have to smile if you don’t want to.” Was that the same voice, the same me, who asked What have I learned in my thirty-four-and-a-half years? I don’t know. Is there ever any way of knowing? I walked home and didn’t smile at anyone.