A smile can cross the boundaries of language, ethnicity and culture. It has the potential to disarm and charm and soften any circumstance. It can be its own language in a way more powerful than any traditional dialect for it talks to the speaker as much as the listener. It does not seek to change you and yet this may happen anyway.
When Abby smiles it is not just the restrained upward curl of the lips but something deeper that illuminates her whole face. So when I arrive a little late for our meeting I know what to expect. A welcoming smile.
Her father was a Vietnam vet who left when she was around three years old. She was too young to know that it was not her fault. Today there is a much wider public knowledge of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that affects many returned servicemen.
Abby tells me that she lost her smile when she got into drugs. She was around 14 years old at the time. It was also around this age that she sought out her father again. His hard working, hard partying life style was not the nurturing thing that she needed at the time. As a young person most of us don't know what we need but we seek it out anyway. It should be our birth right, to know that we have intrinsic value. Instead of this she felt worthless and wrong.
She was arrested for underage drinking and discovered speed at the age of 18. She would remain in a relationship with a man she did not like because he could supply her drugs. All of these things were not taking her to anywhere good.
Abby married when she was twenty seven. Sixteen years and two children later she would leave the emotionally abusive relationship which had for many years seemed normal. For many of those years Abby's smile hid a simple line of reasoning in her head. If I smile I won't get hit.
Her discovery of faith was not just a head thing or even a heart thing but something between those two polarities. A place where she just knew that she had intrinsic value. For Abby the character of Jesus is her simple template on how to live. He hung out with some rat bags. So it came as a surprise to her when many church goers would not talk to junkies. Maybe that's because they get fixated on telling people to change rather than giving them an accepting safe place to heal.
That's a funny word. Heal. It suggests that everything gets better and that all hurt will just go away. A small portion of residual hurt may always remain. Abby smiles a lot today but beneath the smile there is hurt when she sees the things that other people may not notice themselves. The warning signs regarding domestic violence, drug use, and a whole host of other harmful behaviours. This residual little hurt may be the thing that gives her the empathy to see people rather than just pity them.
Abby currently works in an NDIS support role dealing with people struggling with a wide range of issues. That sounds like something she would be good at. Why? Because she has the other side of an easy smile, that ability to listen that people appreciate. She wouldn't ruin it by saying some trite comment like 'I feel your pain'.
Love has a dialect that comes from somewhere between the head and the heart. It can be manifest not only in shared smiles but also shared tears. Abby does not believe that it is her role to change people. But when like her you show an interest in wanting the best for everyone then good changes might just happen anyway..
25 March, 2023