Essays, Essays Archive
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The Currency of Smiles

Currency of Smiles_TraceyS_RaisingMothersIt is January.

The very day my family returns to school and work after the holidays, I have a good look around my house and make a mental to-do list, until I actually get a pen and start writing things down. The first order of business is to de-Christmas the house – to once again pack up all the pretty baubles and things, and neatly stow it all away for another year. Sweep up all the tinsel and glitter from the mantles and the corners of the house, and get started with a clean slate as the new year unfurls.

I feel almost desperate in my need to re-set. I want all visual clutter cleared so my mind can follow. I want drawers and closets purged of their refuse so I can feel unencumbered and free and buoyant. Tidy up. Pare down. Make space for all The New. I know these accomplishments will make me smile.

But first! Clean the things. Fold. Wipe. Launder. Scrub. I remind myself that it can’t all be done in one day, and force myself to be calm about it. But the most immediate thing is to feed people. After the comings and goings of the holiday, the fridge is running on empty, and the pantry seems down-to-the-bone spare, and I have several shops to hit to set things right again. I make my furious-paced trek through the neighbourhood to get it all done before the children come home from school. No time for dilly-dallying. No time for talk.

And as is often the case, I will run into several people I know along the way, but as we approach each other, I’m already thinking about how to politely explain how I can’t stop to chat… a million things to do just now… tick-tock, you see… sorry, so sorry…

High-efficiency is always my goal. Always with a list in hand, I look forward. Everything I do is planned, timed, carefully chosen, curated with purpose. I’m always trying to be a step ahead of myself. I’m not always good at being in The Now. I’ll relax and feel The Now later, I tell myself.

But it is January.

We are all still wishing each other good things and good cheer for the New Year, and I force my shoulders to drop, and to relax, and to smile at my friend and say hello. I push back my all-work schedule of my never-ending to-do list, and decide it better to stop and visit. We kiss each others cheeks and we lock hands for a few moments, and inquire about how the holidays were, and are forced to jog our memories about a sick parent, or a change of job last year, or even to simply discuss the weather, and we are together for a bit of time. Glad to see one another. And we take the moment to comment on that – to smile into the face of another. To be in The Now. It’s good to see you. And it truly is. Just being together. It’s often better to just BE.

There’s a guy-begging-change I see often, whose toothy grin is just like Joe Biden’s. He lights up whenever he sees me, and I grin right back. I ask him how he’s been, and he tells me he’s in good health, and that’s all that matters. He asks me about what I did on New Year’s Eve, and he tells me I have a beautiful smile, and that he loves me. I don’t always have any money to give him, and I try not to feel bad about that because I figure human connections are as important. His eyes crinkle at the corners when he flashes his white teeth at me, and he giggles when we shake hands. I always walk away smiling.

I run into a person who works at one of the dry-cleaners near my house who always asks me how I am, and actually peers into each of my eyes, as if to see if it’s true when I tell him I’m fine. He wants to make up his own mind about it, I suppose, but I feel like he can see right into my soul, so I never lie. (And I always admit to him when I don’t feel well, too – he seems to appreciate that.) We chat for about three or four minutes, about Tunisia and about France, and about what we’ll each make for dinner tonight. He agrees that soup is a good idea, and when we part ways, he kisses my cheeks three times. There’s a faint smell of cigarettes on his collar, that then rubs off on mine, and I carry his scent for a while, but it doesn’t offend me at all. I always walk away smiling.

There’s the artist-lady in her mid-seventies with her very long, grey hair flowing loose this day, and her floor-length fur coat is open. Her tall, slim frame is downright gigantic in her wide-leg jeans and platform boots. Her face, teeth and jewellery remind me of the desert. She asks about the children, and I ask about hers and her beloved grandkids, and everything she says begins and ends with a rolling cackle… she’s larger than life. Her bony fingers squeeze my chin, and she calls me “kid”. I feel special when she talks to me. I always walk away smiling.

This happens many times in the course of one outing, and so my very long list of Things To Do remains longer than I wish it to be. I didn’t make it to the Asian grocery store so there will be no dumplings for lunch tomorrow. I didn’t make it to the pharmacy, so I’ll have to get more Kleenex some other time. But being on the other side of the now-ending day, this feels more than okay to me. I have more smiles in my pocket than I can count.

To touch someone, with your hands…with your heart… this is what really feeds us. So, never mind that I didn’t manage to get everything done on my list. I didn’t manage to get carrots or beans today, so I’ll just make that soup tomorrow instead. I have a quiche in the freezer for exactly this reason. (Planning ahead can be a good thing.) I traded something I wanted to get done for something that I actually needed instead – that’s the stuff that really feeds the soul, and part of the January journey is to remember this feeling so we can keep looking for it. Keep longing for it. Remember to make it a part of daily life so we can sustain ourselves with the good.

I reckon it’s currency worth banking.

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Filed under: Essays, Essays Archive


Tracey Steer is a writer living in urban Montreal with her husband and their two adorable punks. Her work has appeared in Today’s Parent and Reader’s Digest. She doesn’t speak French very well, she probably swears too damned much, and she loves talking about herself in the third person.


  1. I try to smile when I am out and about. Who knows when a simple smile will brighten someone’s day. Plus smiling makes me feel better.

  2. Sarah Silvernail says

    I love interacting with strangers. It is one of the reasons why I have waited tables for so many years. You never know who you will have an impact on. It is also one of the qualities I love most about my husband, his willingness to be kind and engage with strangers.

  3. Monica Geglio says

    I always feel better talking with people on my errands and getting out the house! You never know the stories or people you will encounter. Excellent reflections. <3

  4. Kristen Wilson says

    I know no stranger. A smile is free and I just wish more would give them away, it would definitely make the world a better place.

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