Learning to Smile Again

I want my smile back.

I was looking at some pictures from that Burns Supper I wrote about a few weeks ago, and one notable feature was the expression on my face. Pretty much uniformly flat. Yerch. That was a very good evening. It was a little awkward, but the group was welcoming and I had a good time. You just couldn’t see it in my face.

ImageBarbara had a terrific smile. It lit up the room, but the greatest thing about it was the depth. A still photo never did her justice, because it was the way the smile opened up, and then closed just a little that really made it special. It was the smile of somebody who has seen real sadness, and knows you should be happy in the moment.

That smile is one thing I definitely want to inherit from her. A smile like that has to be earned the hard way, but now I’ve paid the price for it. I just need to learn how to pull it off.

One thing is certain: I’ll never get back to smiling if my memories keep getting stuck on her last year and her death. A whole year of missed signals, and a sudden diagnosis far too late to do anything about the cancer, and then she was gone before I knew it. The regrets from losing her like that, never knowing if there had been a chance in there somewhere to stop the monster, those are unbearable. Maybe worse is the irony of it all.

As I was writing this, one of her knitting friends came over to drop off a project of hers that the group finished, and to tell me that they finished her other project: 52 chemo caps to donate to Cancer Connection. She had finished 42 before she died. She spent the whole year knitting those for other people, unaware that she probably should have been on chemo the whole time herself.

No, I won’t get my smile back remembering the way we lost her. There are plenty of great memories, though, if I just stop staring at the loss. This is the beginning of a season of memories not of how I lost her, but how we found each other. While the world changed for me this past November 9th, it changed suddenly once before, thirty years ago, in a burst of reckless love that led to thirty years of all the best things you could hope for in a marriage, everything but the growing old together part.

Tonight I’ll remember the night we threw the rule book away, abandoned the long engagement, dropped the talk of adoption and started our family. I’ll remember the feeling we had of being swept away by something neither of us understood, the terror and joy of knowing that we were out of control, but the universe wasn’t. That feeling of not knowing why, but knowing some things have to happen right when they have to happen, not when it’s convenient for you.

Now I know why everything was so urgent, and I’m not sorry for a single reckless moment. All those things that seemed so crazy at the time over the years, those rash actions brought our happiest memories, and somehow they always drove us together, never apart.

Love is patient, love is kind, yes. But it’s also urgent.

Take you lover, hold her close. There aren’t words for this, it’s deeper than language. Gaze deep into her eyes and bare your soul, and don’t hold anything back. Let her know that her love is the only thing in the universe that matters, because in the end it is. Don’t wait for a special occasion, every day together is already one, and you never know how many more you’ll get.

If you do that, if you hang on to that sense of urgency, then when the inevitable comes to pass and one of you is left alone, there will be smiles after the tears have passed, because the regrets will be few, and the joy of those moments together won’t fade.

Tonight, I’m going to think of those nights, and I’m going to smile.

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