Monday, August 30, 2010

how i do it.

Three and a half years ago, almost to the day, I had an experience that made me painfully aware that we have no idea what others are going through. And it happened inside a grocery store.

I was with my mom and we had just come from her very first chemotherapy infusion. Three hours spent watching ‘red punch’ being pumped into my mom’s blood stream. This red punch was actually poison – meant to kill the other poison currently trying to overtake her body. The chemotherapy drugs would kill all fast-growing cells in my mom’s body – cancer cells are fast growing. But so are hair follicles. The nurses in the infusion suite assured my mom her hair would fall out – most likely before her next appointment three weeks in the future. But that day, her first infusion day, the day we walked into the local grocery store to pick up some additional medications for her to use in between treatments, she still had all of her hair. All of her thick, long, dark, straight hair. She had yet to take on that gaunt, pale look so many with cancer take on in the thick of their treatments. She was, to everyone who passed her in the store that day, active, healthy and happy. If I hadn’t known from where we had just come, she could have fooled me as well. On our way out, I remember smiling at everyone I passed. It was a somewhat wary smile, but a smile nonetheless – the only gesture I could think of to make everything seem okay.

Because, while standing in line at the pharmacy that cold December day, amidst pills and gels and creams and ointments meant to heal and soothe the human body and mind, I realized we never know what kind of healing those we encounter might really need. It’s not always visible. In fact, it is probably most often not visible – especially if someone is ‘talented’ at carrying or hiding his or her load.

Some people, it seems, are better than others at carrying their loads. Some complain while others praise. Some fight while others accept. Some trust in a Higher Power while others only blame and ask ‘why.’ Some ignore while others are overcome.

I’m not sure there is a right or wrong way to deal with life. To each his own? But I do know when I praise and trust and accept and live, I am much happier with my life.

I’ve had trials that, in the moment, seemed huge, but looking back, were not so grand as I had once thought. I’ve had trials that others thought enormous, but to me they were just part of life. And I’ve had trials that I struggle with every single day. And, every single day, I have to choose how I will act. Some days I choose to complain and cry and ask ‘why me?’. Other days I embrace and trust and go on my merry way. And, although there is nothing wrong with a good, hard cry, in the end I much prefer the embrace-trust-merry-way kind of days.

I figured, since I asked so many others how they do it, I should answer my own question. I narrowed it down to my top 10. Ten things that help me get through my days, no matter the content or size of my trial. In no particular order: I read, I pray, I talk to others, I smile, I simplify, I learn to say ‘no’, I remember it’s bigger than me, I cry, I learn and I run.
But today, I want to focus on smile.


It’s such a simple thing and yet, I so often forget to do it. Or I refuse to do it. It's definitely my choice.

I don’t remember a time in my life when smiling, truly smiling, has been the wrong thing to do. Sometimes smiling comes naturally. There are days when nothing could possibly stop that grin from creeping up on my face.

But it’s those days when you actually have to work at it, when you have to make a conscious effort to un-furrow your brow, brighten your eyes and show those pearly whites, that really truly make a difference! To yourself and to others.

Like it says in the song made famous by Charlie Chaplin:

Smile though your heart is aching
Smile even though it’s breaking.
When there are clouds in the sky –
You’ll get by.
If you smile through your fear and sorrow.
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through
For you.
Light up you face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness.
Although a tear may be ever so near,
That’s the time you must keep on trying,
Smile, what’s the use of crying?
You’ll find that life is still worthwhile,
If you just smile.

Smiling doesn’t mean sadness goes away. To me, it just means you are deciding to focus on something different for that moment. Hiding every trace of sadness isn’t necessarily appropriate in all occasions. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be mad. It’s okay to mourn, grieve or be upset. But smiling and choosing gladness over sadness shows that you understand there is a bigger picture. That life isn’t just about you. That you choose to get up and face the day just like Charlie.

I love the following quote from Elder Richard G. Scott, a leader in my church. He said, “The challenges you face, the growth experiences you encounter, are intended to be temporary scenes played out on the stage of a life of continuing peace and happiness. Sadness, heartache, and disappointment are events in life. It is not intended that they be the substance of life. I do not minimize how hard some of these events can be. When the lesson you are to learn is very important, trials can extend over a long period of time, but they should not be allowed to become the confining focus of everything you do. Your life can and should be wondrously rewarding. …That perspective keeps challenges confined to their proper place – stepping stones to further growth and attainment.”

Once in college, I participated in my own experiment. For one entire day, I decided to smile and say hi to {almost} everyone I passed. My campus had 30,000+ students, so obviously I couldn’t smile at everyone, but those whom I passed directly or had some sort of eye contact with got a crooked-toothed smile from yours truly. I have no idea if what I did that day made a difference to anyone other than me. But I do know that at the end of that day, I was happy. I’m sure the things that happened that particular day were no better or worse than any average day, but I felt much better. And you know what? People smiled back. People lost in their own worlds with their mouths facing south perked up and smiled. That made me happy. And I can’t help but believe it didn’t make the other ones doing the smiling happy too.

I have continued this experiment every so often throughout the years. Sometimes I even try to do it on the worst of days. It doesn’t take away the reality of whatever it is I’m going through that day, but it makes me get through that day. And maybe, just maybe, it helped someone else get through theirs.

Because, like I learned in the grocery store those few years ago, you just don’t know where someone has come from. And even if it’s wary, the least you can do is smile.


Karen Hauley said...

Today I will smile . . . even though I woke up without seeing leah's infectious smile. I miss you guys.

Heather said...

Loved your post, I will smile today and think of you :)

Michelle said...

Maren. You. Are. Awesome.

Thanks for all your inspiring posts!

Rach said...

This post makes me smile.
YOU make me smile Maren!

We are excited you are home!

Julianne said...

Thanks, Maren. This whole series has been so great.

Life can be hard...but it's so good!

Jessica said...

Beautifully expressed Maren. Your thoughts reminded me of something Sister Hinckley said - that we should be kind to others, we never know what battles they may be fighting. Thanks for reminded me of the power in a smile.

Amy said...

I have really loved reading all of the "How do you do it" guest posts - even though I knew sitting down to read them meant inevitable tears running down my face. But thank you for sharing. You're always an inspiration. :)

Ann Marie said...

You rock, Maren. I have enjoyed reading your posts for the past few weeks. Thanks for sharing!

Lisa said...

Maren, this is Lisa, who took over your job back in the day :). I don't think I've ever posted on your blog, but after coming across it through Michelle's years ago I've checked back in often and your posts are always always inspiring to me. Always. This series has been amazing and I want to thank you and all your guest posters for all their thoughts. My perspective on life has changed in many ways, some big and some small. Anyway, I guess I'm no longer just a lurker :)

ed and kelli said...

wow. you are amazing and i love you. i like smiling, smiling's my favorite:)

Lisa said...

Maren, you are incredibly wise and inspiring. I am so lucky to know you.

Courtney said...

I have loved this series of posts you have done. They were truly inspiring! If I am going through a tough time (or even in just a grumpy mood) I am amazed at how much smiling can help. Sometimes I think that physical act of making your face look happy can bump you into a better mood-- kind of a "fake it 'til you make it." And it can definitely help spread to cheer to those around you. What a great post!

JAZKK Low said...

Amen! :)

Jordan and Ariana said...

Beautifully done! The whole series was brilliant! I hope you always keep what these ladies said-each post was very inspiring.

I don't think I've cried so much before as when I read your blog.

Thank you for your writing!

Natalie said...

I love your new blog, Maren, and I couldn't agree with you more -- smiling makes all the difference!

Julie Laughlin said...

thanks for this post and all of the others on your blog. this was a great idea and i looked forward to reading each one each day.

Amy W said...

Maren, I have loved reading these posts. I have felt a new desire to find more gratitude for my blessings in honor of these amazing women who "do it" so well.

Thanks for the smile, Maren.

Kelly said...

I am glad you decided to do a How you DO it post! I love it...I love you...I love your inspiration...I love your SMILE. Thank you for the gentle reminder today!

Porters said...

Thank you maren! Thank you for posting all of really helps to see perspective and to have a better grasp on what others are going through. But like you said, we don't know what others are going through. The best thing we can do for them and for ourselves is to smile...I will have to try your experiment. I am glad for this reminder, sometimes when I am put out I think everyone has to be sad with me. Not so. I am glad to hear this. thank you!

Afton said...

I loved this along with everyone else. It felt like I was reading from a past me, but unfortunately not a current me and it reminded me of how the efforts to get through things more positively and to smile really did help. There was a point when I just got sick of everyone thinking I had a perfect life because I was positive that I started letting it come through more that I had realities too so I wouldn't feel so isolated and misunderstood. I've noticed this in myself in the past few years and am trying to change it back because really, who cares what others think and happy people are always more fun to be around! Thanks Maren:).