The Year Without Smiles

The year 1816 has come to be known as “the year without summer”, all because temperatures around the world were up to 3 degrees cooler than normal due to the largest volcanic eruption in world history.

3 degrees.

Doesn’t sound all that bad to me. It wouldn’t have kept me away from the beach or off my bike. Still, it was enough to wipe out crops, cause near-famine conditions, and provoke atypical outbreaks of disease, so I guess it should be taken seriously. (Do we really want to find out what a permanent rise of a few degrees created by climate change will bring about?)

What will 2020 become known as? The year of Covid, coronavirus, or simply “the pandemic”? To me, it will be the year without smiles. What is there to smile about when confronted with the anguish caused by the constant threat of serious illness and loss of life for ourselves, loved ones, and hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens of the world? There’s little reason to smile for the overworked and overwhelmed healthcare workers watching waves of the sick and dying pass through their care. Even less for the elders spending their waning years isolated behind walls of glass or clear plastic, lacking the comfort of human touch.

(And this was written before a sitting president encouraged a mob of misguided, mentally deficient terrorists to attempt to overthrow the government. Sheesh.)

And if you are among the fortunate who haven’t lost a loved one, a job, or a business venture at the hands of this callous virus, perhaps you’ve been able to manage the occasional grin, whether feigned or from a grateful heart. As St. Paul encourages us, we should give thanks in (not necessarily for) all circumstances. It’s safe to assume that he would include Covid-19 within the definition of “all”. Psychologists have finally come around to Paul’s ancient wisdom, acknowledging the power of gratitude in emotional and physical healing.

So what do we have to be thankful for in the lengthening shadow of a killer pandemic? A number of things come immediately to mind:

  • Businesses overcoming the resistance to allowing employees to work from home. (May they not forget!)
  • Increased outdoor activity and the accommodation thereof. (Even if it caused a shortage of bicycles and their parts.)
  • A tiny-handed and tinier-brained would-be autocrat was taken out of the White House and out to the woodshed. (May he remain there.)
  • I don’t have to take my partially completed jigsaw puzzles off the dining room table; no company’s coming.
  • Increased awareness of the need to address issues of racial justice. (Even if we have yet to actually implement the necessary measures to mitigate the problems.)
  • Forced family time (for better or worse).
  • Creativity demonstrated by individuals and organizations to address the limitations imposed by the pandemic.
  • Zoom! (Saving grace for us extroverts.)

So, contrary to all logic, for the above reasons and more, I’m still able to smile and maybe you are, too.

But it doesn’t matter. All those smiles are hidden behind masks.* This is a not-to-be-underestimated problem for our society as a whole. Look, I’m used to seeing people walk down the street wearing grimaces and scowls, but there are usually enough smiles around to compensate for all those malcontents. Now, however, I have no idea what’s hiding behind those masks. I’m not the best at reading facial expressions as it is, but when all I see is a pair of eyes (and a nose, in the case of the weak-minded who seem to believe Covid is transmitted only through the mouth and/or chin) I’m useless.

This problem is most harmful to children. They are nourished by smiles, not to mention the equally unavailable hug. Outside of their immediate families, some little ones may go days or even weeks without seeing someone smile at them. (TV smiles are not and should never be a substitute.) What impression of the world are they developing? In my mind, every child needs and deserves every smile we can give them. That’s one reason I smile at every child I see. I still do, but they can’t see it.

I can’t stand it anymore. When a vaccine was initially under development, I was ambivalent about getting it, especially early in its distribution. Now, though, I’m ready to get in line first chance. By the grace of God, I’m ready to shine my smile again.


* Please note that I’m not an no-masker. Those folks are a toxic combination of ignorance and selfishness. If nothing else, 2016-2021 has amply demonstrated to us the danger of that personality type.

5 thoughts on “The Year Without Smiles

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