The little boy that lost his smile – By @currantjones
The little boy that lost his smile
Whenever my mum sees a photo of me as a young child she says the same thing. A thing I’m sure plenty of mothers say.
“Where did he go?”
I was fairly troll-like child, with a large head and a propensity, or so I’m told, for pointing at things and saying, “Ooh!”. I was also blonde and completely devoted to my mum. I would weep for hours at nursery until I was picked up. When my mum did arrive, I would break into a huge smile.
If my transformation into a lanky, taciturn man is a matter of some consternation to my mum, this smile is baffling to me.
It was a quite lovely smile. Cheeky and a little wry, hinted at by the mouth but only fully expressed in the eyes. It was also incredibly open.
I forgot how to smile like that. As I grew up, as I became conscious of having a smile, I began to worry how it looked. It was crooked, pulling hard to the left, stretching my already thin lips thinner. My teeth, too few and too small, embarrassed me and I hid them. The photos from my teenage years chart a journey of a shrinking smile; at times a smirk, other times worryingly like a pout.
This was a completely conscious decision. At university, a friend and I would tease one another constantly, mocking any picture where our natural smiles shone through.
And then something happened over the last two weeks.
Almost my entire world of communication has shifted onto my computer. Video calls do a wondrous job of recreating reality but they have one odd feature. You see yourself in them. It is an almost literal out of body experience, being able to spectate oneself in a conversation. I am certain I am not the only one who spends perhaps a majority of my time watching myself and not the people I am talking to.
This is no doubt a difficult experience for many people. We can now see all the quirks and the tics, the exaggeration and the emphasis that for our acquaintances make us us, but which are entirely foreign to us. There is much to obsess over and self-criticise.
But I’ve found it wonderful. I have the pleasure of working with people who make me laugh constantly and doing work I enjoy, so I have been treated to seeing my own smile. I’ve watched it grow uninvited, tugging at my lips and crinkling eyes. I’ve seen my nostrils flare and ears twitch. In seeing it’s organic and genuine splendour I’ve been forced to ask myself how I could ever have not wanted this. How could this ever have not been beautiful?
If we are on Skype or Zoom or Remo or Google Hangouts or House Party or FaceTime or Messenger or WhatsApp (there are too many platforms), and I look like I’m not paying attention, don’t worry, I am. I’m watching myself smile. I’m marvelling at it. My smile is making me smile.