That Eternal Smile

That Eternal Smile March 5, 2020

It was gray, cold, and wet again.

It has been gray, cold, and wet, for months. We didn’t exactly have a winter this year, but some kind of three-month limbo where nothing as beautiful as snow happened. It rained for weeks. There were no icicles, no intricate frost, only rain and mist. There was no smell of ice to cover the Steubenville sulfur reek.

I was finally well enough for a quick trip out of the house, and I was going stir crazy. I had been indoors for weeks. I’d missed Ash Wednesday Mass and Sunday Mass as well. Fibromyalgia creeps up on me that way. Hours, days, weeks disappear in a haze of head fog and muscle stiffness, until I feel like an anchoress chained in my living room. But yesterday morning, I felt a small burst of energy, and I needed to do something with it.

We had a bag of oranges to bring to The Friendship Room. Their homeless and nearly homeless guests suffer terribly in the end of February and the beginning of March. There’s no way to get warm or dry if you have to spend most of your time outdoors. Everyone downtown seems to get a cold or a flu. Oranges were on sale, so I decided to bring them some vitamin c.

I took my sack of oranges to the bus stop. The fruit was the only thing that had any color– bright orange on a backdrop of dead ecru grass, gray pavement, gray sky, gray coat, gray sludge covering the parked cars.

The bus, which is supposed to be white, looked gray as well.

Nobody on the bus was happy. In most places it’s customary to not make eye contact or speak on the bus, but in Steubenville, bus passengers usually chatter with one another and with the driver. The bus is my primary venue for gossip and news about what’s going on around town. It’s what I have instead of a social life. This time, though, no one talked. No one smiled. We huddled in our coats like fat sparrows, solitary, quiet.

The walk to the Friendship Room was gray and quiet as well.

Usually, the people at the Friendship Room have a smile to offer you, but I didn’t see anybody at the Friendship Room. I just dropped off my burden and turned to go back home.

I have been lonely and depressed for so long this year, and it felt like the whole world was lonely and depressed. Depression was worrying me like a dog worries a bone. I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to do something, but there was nothing to do downtown.

I dropped in to the Adoration chapel in the basement of the church next door, and I sat in the back.

I gazed at Him, and He gazed at me.

When Rosie was first born, after that disaster nightmare birth when nothing went right, she had colic. The Doctor Sears Baby Book said you were supposed to sit with colicky babies in the rocking chair, but we couldn’t afford a rocking chair, so I sat with her on the edge of the bed, rocking back and forth like a madwoman, from midnight until five in the morning. I did this every night for weeks.

Finally, the colic went away as quickly and mysteriously as it had come. I nursed her to sleep and then tiptoed out of the room as tired grown-ups do. I sat down at the computer, desperate for a moment to myself. I don’t know if it was literally the first moment to myself I’d had in a month, but it felt like it.

The instant I opened Facebook, Rosie woke up and cried.

I didn’t stand up  at first. I sat there, exhausted, angry, frustrated, praying she’d go back to sleep.

She didn’t.

Finally, I got up and went into the bedroom.

I cannot describe the cloud of put-upon resentment that I brought with me into that dark room, but it didn’t matter– not to Rosie.

The moment she saw me, Rosie stopped crying and smiled.

Imagine the smile of a baby just a few weeks old– not the the smile they learn later, after they get fat and start to sit up and play on their own. That’s a smile they practice after they realize they have agency– that they can do things. Imagine a baby a few weeks old, unable to sit up or roll over, completely helpless. They can’t do anything and they don’t know that they ever will. That infant’s whole world is her mother, and when she wakes up, she finds herself alone with the whole world missing. She doesn’t know where her world is. She cries for what seems like a long time, because to an infant that tiny, any length of time is long. And then, there is her mother in front of her. The world is back. Everything is as it should be because she is here. And the baby smiles– not a social smile, a response to somebody else’s queue, but a genuine unabashed explosion of pure joy because things are right again.

That was the smile Rosie smiled at me.

I am not worthy to be the cause of such a smile, but Rosie didn’t know that. She just knew that I was there, and that made her happy.

I believe that when I enter the Adoration chapel, Christ looks at me with that same smile. The One Who is eternally innocent and does not change, sees me enter the Presence and flashes that impossibly delighted smile. He sees me, and everything He’s been through on my behalf seems worthwhile to Him because I am finally here. And if it seems worthwhile to Him, it must really be worthwhile, because He cannot be deceived.

I believe that when I finally see Him for who He is, that is the smile I will give Him back– not performative, the way grown-ups smile, but genuine, real. I will really feel that way.

I sat in the eternal Smile for several minutes before I went home.

I couldn’t see or feel it, but it was there.

On the way back to the bus stop, I saw a few crocuses with purple buds starting out of a badly neglected flowerbed.

We don’t deserve the Spring. We are helpless to deserve anything like a Spring. Spring has been gone so long, and we don’t understand how something like Spring could exist. But it’s on its way, and nothing can stop it.

It will be here soon.

(image via Pixabay)


Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross

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