Awakin.org

Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

The Day I Learned The Value of a Smile

--by Maya Angelou (Feb 29, 2016)


My paternal grandmother who raised me had a remarkable influence on how I saw the world and how I reckoned my place in it. She was the picture of dignity. She spoke softly and walked slowly, with her hands behind her back, fingers laced together. I imitated her so successfully that neighbors called me her shadow.

"Sister Henderson, I see you got your shadow with you again."

Grandmother would look at me and smile. "Well, I guess you’re right. If I stop, she stops. If I go, she goes."

When I was thirteen, my grandmother took me back to California to join my mother, and she returned immediately to Arkansas. The California house was a world away from that little home in which I grew up in Arkansas. My mother wore her straight hair in a severe stylish bob. My grandmother didn’t believe in hot curling women’s hair, so I had grown up with a braided natural. Grandmother turned our radio on to listen to the news, religious music, Gang Busters, and The Lone Ranger. In California my mother wore lipstick and rouge and played loud blues music and jazz on a record player. Her house was full of people who laughed a lot and talked loudly. I definitely did not belong. I walked around in that worldly atmosphere, with my hands clasped behind my back, my hair pulled back in a tight braid, humming a Christian song.

My mother watched me for about two weeks. Then we had what was to become familiar as, "a sit down talk to."

She said, "Maya, you disapprove of me because I am not like your grandmother. That’s true. I am not. But I am your mother and I am working some part of my anatomy off to buy you good clothes and give you well-prepared food and keep this roof over your head. When you go to school, the teacher will smile at you and you will smile back. Other students you don’t even know will smile and you will smile. But on the other hand, I am your mother. I tell you what I want you to do. If you can force one smile on your face for strangers, do it for me. I promise you I will appreciate it."

She put her hand on my cheek and smiled. "Come on baby, smile for mother. Come on."

She made a funny face and against my wishes, I smiled. She kissed me on the lips and started to cry.

"That’s the first time I have seen you smile. It is a beautiful smile, Mother’s beautiful daughter can smile."

I had never been called beautiful and no one in my memory had ever called me daughter.

That day, I learned that I could be a giver by simply bringing a smile to another person. The ensuing years have taught me that a kind word, a vote of support is a charitable gift. I can move over and make another place for someone. I can turn my music up if it pleases, or down if it is annoying.

I may never be known as a philanthropist, but I certainly am a lover of mankind, and I will give freely of my resources.

I am happy to describe myself as charitable.

Excerpted from Letter to my Daughter by Maya Angelou.

Add Your Reflection:

Send me an email when another comment is posted on this passage.
Name: Email:

13 Previous Reflections:

 
On Jul 17, 2016 Bruny wrote:

 I am by nature a smiley person. I recently went to see my mother-in-law at the nursing home a place where I lose my smile. I was speaking to the nurse about my loved one, I can't remember what I said but the nurse said to me " Thank you, I Love You!! I turned around and said thank you, no one has told me that today. The feeling that came over me was Love pure Love. That nurse does not love me as her sister by blood but she does as her sister in Humanity!! In a time where we are hurting each other with racism and bigotry, this White woman loved this Hispanic  woman, no agendas and I Loved her right back.  Bruny



On Mar 10, 2016 Bryan wrote:

 This is a fantastic reflection on the power of just a simple smile.  Thank you for an amazing contribution.



On Mar 1, 2016 Mom wrote:

 
So true- my son who is a teenager will never smile and I have to keep reminding him to smile - thank you Maya Angelu
,
 



On Mar 1, 2016 Nadine wrote:

 At a point in my life where I was going through some challenges, a young pre-teen girl would give me a wonderful smile each week at church.  Her beautiful smile and wlllingness to share it with me meant a lot to me and enabled and lightened my burdens.  We can all share a smile.



On Mar 1, 2016 Craig wrote:

My eyes are full of tears after reading this. Thank you Maya Angelou.



On Mar 1, 2016 leena wrote:

 What a beautiful and profound way to look at a form of giving



1 reply: Leah | Post Your Reply
On Mar 1, 2016 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

 Absolute truth. This is why I carry a Free Hugs sign, talk to strangers, smile at strangers, share small bottles of bubbles in airports, grocery stores while waiting in line as well as various other locations. We may never know what is going on for someone and to smile, to make eye contact, to engage in conversation can make all the difference. Honoring, respecting, valuing each other goes so very far! About a month ago, I smiled at a homeless man I had seen several times in the same spot. I had tried to smile at him before, but his eyes were always downcast. I caught his eye, smiled, he smiled back. I asked if he was hungry and would like to join me for hot soup. He agreed. We spent the next hour, mostly me listening as he shared his story. We hugged several times. He was still on the street for about 2 weeks after that, we shared a sandwich on another day.  And now I don't see him. Maybe his luck changed. Maybe something good happened. I sure hope so. Thank you for sharin  See full.

 Absolute truth. This is why I carry a Free Hugs sign, talk to strangers, smile at strangers, share small bottles of bubbles in airports, grocery stores while waiting in line as well as various other locations. We may never know what is going on for someone and to smile, to make eye contact, to engage in conversation can make all the difference. Honoring, respecting, valuing each other goes so very far!

About a month ago, I smiled at a homeless man I had seen several times in the same spot. I had tried to smile at him before, but his eyes were always downcast. I caught his eye, smiled, he smiled back. I asked if he was hungry and would like to join me for hot soup. He agreed. We spent the next hour, mostly me listening as he shared his story. We hugged several times. He was still on the street for about 2 weeks after that, we shared a sandwich on another day.  And now I don't see him. Maybe his luck changed. Maybe something good happened. I sure hope so.

Thank you for sharing Maya's smile story. She is one of my top 5 SHEroes in our world.

Hide full comment.

On Mar 1, 2016 sunita wrote:

 I love Maya Angelou's writings, find them inspirational and uplifting. This piece from her life has touched me and definitely taught me to be accommodating. The best way to bring a smile on others to to share your smile. Smile is the greatest gift we have and I believe in sharing this gift with everyone and making this planet one positive vibrant universe. 



On Mar 1, 2016 Heidi wrote:

 The story is so beautiful that my heart replied with tears. On the other hand, how can you smile when at the present time your heart aches, when you are sad and not knowing what is ahead. Uncertainty can be a difficult shadow to walk with. Desperation, seems to be around waiting to jump at you at any time. Where is my smile, is she still around? Maybe not....



1 reply: AJ | Post Your Reply
On Feb 28, 2016 david doane wrote:

Smiling is an important giving.  Others are more likely to feel happy, warm, welcome, relaxed, safe when greeted with a smile.  The good feeling in response to a smile may last only a short time, or it may stay with the person for a long time.  It may result in the person smiling or being more cheerful to the next person, so the smile becomes a gift that keeps on giving.  What I feel seems to readily show on my face, be it sadness, depression, irritation, anger, happiness, excitement.  I've had many experiences of someone responding positively to my smiling, including to smile back.  Life is difficult, and a smile can be a dose of free medicine to provide a bit of relief or make a big difference.  You never know.  Smiling is its own reward, and the practice of smiling fosters my giving more smiles and other kindnesses.



On Feb 25, 2016 Manyam wrote:

 Beautiful, made me smile :)