Smiling–A Panacea for a Pandemic

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy. — Thich Nhat Hanh

Lauren and I


I disliked the book from its first line:

“This doesn’t feel right, patron.” Isabelle Lacoste’s voice in his earpiece was anxious, verging on urgent.

In spite of my initial response, I read ninety-nine pages. But, no more! I love the author, Louise Penny. I mostly enjoyed the first sixteen novels in the Inspector Gamache series. However, this one, I will not finish. As the saying goes, “Life is too short to drink cheap wine.” Likewise, life is too short to read bleak novels.

Pandemics can bruise our spirit, darken our outlook, wear us down. During this difficult time, it is important to take care of our psychological well-being. Read books that inspire, listen to music that soothes, walk in nature, associate with optimistic people and take time every day to smile and express gratitude. A positive attitude protects us, uplifts us, allows us to be our best possible selves.

My friend’s husband, Shawn exemplified positivity. While still a teenager, Shawn was diagnosed with dystonia. The Mayo Clinic website describes the disease as an incurable movement disorder in which muscles contract involuntarily causing repetitive or twisting movements.

I met Lauren, Shawn’s wife, at a local arts centre. We were both in our forties and Shawn six years older. Lauren and I are soulmates, kindred spirits, or whatever other term describes the heart-to-heart connection between two people. When Lauren introduced me to her husband of almost thirty years, his eyes mesmerized me. Large, bright, blue. His smile crinkled his entire face. When I asked Shawn, how he was doing, he replied, “Tickety-boo”. The thick padded neck brace disappeared. I saw only the joyful man in the easy chair. The intense pain, the debilitation, the surgeries, the injections, none of these were evident in Shawn’s shining eyes, lilting voice, and radiant visage.

I visited Shawn in the hospital a few days before his death. His body contorted, his face twisted, the morphine no longer sufficient to ease the pain, he smiled up at me and assured me he was “Tickety-boo.”

At Shawn’s celebration of life, Lauren gave to each attendee, a small, white, concrete bird. For eight years that symbol of Shawn’s luminous spirit has rested in my garden. It never fails to make me smile and remember that remarkable man.

Smiling makes us healthier. Frequent, unabashed smiling has been shown to reduce blood pressure, improve the immune system, and may even reduce the risk of chronic disease.

Melissa Norton, founder of Four Wellness Co.

My niece

My niece also exemplifies a keen enjoyment of living despite an incurable disease. Alison has a rare type of blood cancer that causes severe pain in all of her nerve endings. On “bad” days, she lies immobile on the living room couch. The smallest movement sends shock waves through her body. On “better” days, she accomplishes small tasks such as cleaning the bathroom sink, or the toilet, or the tub. On “good” days she cooks, shops or even attends a gentle yoga class. Chemotherapy lessens, but does not eliminate, the discomfort. Before her illness, Alison and her husband led active lives. Among other pastimes, they biked, kayaked, and hiked. Even though Alison can no longer do those things, she makes certain to rest during the week so that on designated weekends, she can travel with her husband to one of their favourite trails or rivers. Alex heads off alone on an adventure; Alison drives and meets him at his destination. Those are her “best” days.

When I asked Alison how she keeps such a positive outlook, she said, “With humour and with God.”

I thought about Lauren’s tribute to Shawn, where she wrote that the best part of their relationship was the laughter. I recalled Ruth, a wise yoga teacher, explaining the benefits of smiling. How the muscles activated send a message to the brain to release feel-happy hormones. Ruth said that if you simply could not smile, put a pencil between your teeth. The same muscles respond, the brain is tricked, stress is reduced and positive feelings ensue. I shared that advice with Alison. Perhaps she can use it on the bad days.

Ruth, the wise yoga teacher

Living through a pandemic is not the same as living with an incurable disease. The pandemic will probably become endemic; most of us will resume our previous lives. But, what Shawn and Alison taught me was that if they were able to stay positive and experience joy in their lives, in spite of intense suffering, than I, who am blessed with good health, can certainly do the same.

So, smile for yourself, share your smile with others and make today’s world a healthier, happier place.

Why Wait for the 0’s and 5’s to Celebrate? Every Birthday Can Be a Festival

Today is my 74th birthday. Upon rising, one of my first thoughts was, “Next year I’ll turn 75. I will have to plan something special.” The next thought was, “Why?” Children’s birthdays are celebrated every year. Just look at the card racks. “Happy Birthday One Year Old,” Two, Three, Four, Five and all the way up to Ten. Albeit, the higher you go, the fewer cards there are. What happens then? Well, there are 20’s 30’s 40’s 50’s and 60’s greeting cards. More after that, the 5’s get included…65, 75, 85 and then 90. I can’t recall seeing a 95 one—perhaps not enough are sold to make their manufacture worthwhile.

For my Mom’s 95th my sister hosted a family gathering. A smaller group met for her 96th. The following year, because most of our small family was widely dispersed, there was no celebration at all. I know Mom was disappointed. She died two weeks before her 98th birthday. I suspect her passing then was intentional. Impossible to be disappointed if you’re not here.

Mom’s 95th Birthday

As for me, on my 65th, I invited five women friends, including my daughter, to my house for brunch and a session with a spiritual healer. Kerrilynn is a gifted intuitive. She “saw” deceased loved ones and communicated with them to bring comfort to those left behind. I have no memory of my “reading”, but I do recall that Kerrilynn had a great deal to say to the others present.

My 65th Birthday

That was the last time I honoured a birthday with a group of friends.

Here’s what I have done today:

a) Luxuriated in a hot Epsom salts bath perfumed with jasmine essential oil. I always let the fragrance choose me. Without looking at the labels of my identical blue bottles, I uncap and sniff each one, accepting or rejecting the scent. Sometimes only one says, “Yes!” If there are two of three contenders, I repeat the sniffing exercise until the best one emerges. Then, I look up the qualities of the oil in my aromatherapy handbook.

A few of my aromatherapy oils

Here’s a small part of what I read about jasmine:

In India the jasmine plant is called “queen of the night” or “moonshine in the garden.”

The fragrance penetrates and diminishes fear. No other essential oil is quite as capable of changing our mood so intensely. Jasmine oil does not simply lighten our mood, it brings euphoria to darkness. Jasmine is helpful for recapturing self-confidence and defeating pessimism.

No matter how often I allow an oil to choose me, I am amazed by the appropriateness of the fragrance. I had been feeling low for a while. Little energy to do anything but necessary tasks. Creative projects held no appeal. During my twenty-minute soak, ideas tumbled out. I’m not a fan of stream-of-consciousness writing. It confuses me. However, a form of that technique seemed appropriate here. I wanted to put down, (mostly) unedited, thoughts about my birthday. The task is proving difficult. Most of my writing is edited at least half a dozen times. I don’t know how much of this will stay when I’m done…but the doing is fun.

Speaking of blogs, according to Wikipedia,

A blog is a discussion or informational website published on the World Wide Web consisting of discrete, often informal diary-style text entries. Posts are typically displayed in reverse chronological order, so that the most recent post appears first, at the top of the web page.

Only one or two of my thirty or so posts have been diary-like. I guess I will have to add this one to that list.

b) Walked with my dog in warm October sunshine.

I love having been born in the fall. As Anne Shirley said, “I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” Of course, there are Octobers everywhere. But I know what Lucy Maude Montgomery meant—a land rife with sugar maples that exchange their summer-green gowns for vibrant orange and red and yellow canopies that dance in the autumn sun.

Strathgartney Provincial Park, Prince Edward Island, Canada

My walking companion
Pitou

c) Vacuumed the whole house.

d) Stripped my bed and remade it with freshly laundered, line-dried linens.

e) Manicured my fingernails.

f) Written this blog.

All this before noon! Furthermore, all were activities that I enjoy. Well, vacuuming is not that great. But, I do have an amazing stick vac that does a thorough and time-efficient job.

I realize that I have already celebrated my birthday in hundreds of happy moments. And just think, there are many hours left in this day to fill with joy. Why does anyone need a “big” event for a birthday to be special?

Me on my 75th birthday enjoying snow crab for lunch

PS I may still plan something “big” for my 75th. Or, I may not.