A wise teacher advises breathing in to calm the body, breathing out, and smiling, which, he says, and we all know, seems to be even more difficult than calming the wild horse body. We grimace, we grin, but how often during daily life does anyone give, or receive a smile?
I almost knocked the teeth out of my smile yesterday by tumbling down over rocks on the trail, but the extraordinary good fortune I’ve nearly always enjoyed brought me through unharmed, except for a sore chin, and the curious, temporary experience of being “lantern-jawed”—my bottom teeth out of alignment with my top teeth, reminding me of how unimproved people’s teeth used to be. By middle age, a lot of country people had lost most of their teeth, and the lantern-jaw look came from jaws knocked out of kilter by all the vicissitudes of a tough life. Women were said to lose a tooth with each childbirth. Now all these teeth troubles are fixed with implants, braces, and operations to wire up broken jaws.
I can’t resist smiling when I see once again at the beginning of my hike the magic garden an angel named Nance planted last spring. Nourished by Nance and all the water bottles we’ve emptied, the garden is now a wonder to behold, transforming a barren corner of a parking lot at the trailhead with clusters of orange, yellow and lavender flowers, a feast for humming birds—and even a double row of handsome corn and a big bunch of squash.
“Fee free” the “Rite in the Rain” notebook Nance tied to a railing states, and the euphoric sentences hikers have entered, thanking her for the beauty and the generosity of her gift, are written smiles.
If we could only remember to plant a few more flowers and vegetables in whatever ragged corner we inhabit, smiles might become very nearly universal.
[For more on Nance’s garden, please read The Gospel According to Nance.]