Smirk in Defiance of Misfortune. Have the Last Laugh.

Smirk in Defiance of Misfortune. Have the Last Laugh. April 29, 2024

Leonardo da Vinci (1452–1519); “The Mona Lisa” (or La Joconde, La Gioconda), between 1503-1506; Musée du Louvre {{PD-US-expired}}

This post is about the inspiration and strength I draw from my adult son’s defiance of misfortune resulting from his traumatic brain injury. The smirk on his face at momentous times tells me that somehow, in some way, he will have the last laugh. How do we respond to misfortune in our lives? Do we allow it to conquer us, or will we gain strength with the help of others to prevail?

I don’t know how often guardian archangels tickle those entrusted to their care. But Christopher’s does. One of Christopher’s favorite CNAs—that is, one of his Certified Nursing Archangels, who cherishes him, tickled him under his right arm yesterday. He raised his right arm as if he wanted to hit her! The archangel warmly warned him, “Christopher Metzger, you had better put that arm down or I will tell your parents!” He slowly did so—with a smirk. She and I laughed as we recounted her story in Christopher’s mysteriously magnetic presence.

Later, this angelic messenger tickled Christopher under his left arm. This time, he raised his left arm in defiance. Again, she scolded him. He dropped his left arm fast. Let it be duly noted that this is the same left arm (he only has one) that specialists told us three years ago he would never raise again.  Now that is defiance!

I don’t know if most angels or archangels have siblings. But this one does. In fact, she has several brothers, no sisters. She is the oldest child and watches over the rest, just like she does Christopher. Christopher’s guardian archangel said to me as we were moving Christopher from his wheelchair to his bed yesterday afternoon that he reminds her of one of her brothers. When I asked, “How so?” she replied, “It’s his overall aura. A very strong will. He doesn’t back down. He keeps fighting until he prevails. The biggest thing, though, is his smirk.” When I recounted this exchange for Christopher’s sister Julianne yesterday, she remarked, “That’s Christopher.” Indeed, it is. He has often worn a smirk like a badge of honor throughout the years.

A smirk can mean many things and is open to controversy, like the Mona Lisa’s mysterious smile shown here (Refer here, here, and here). The same could be said for that ultimate smirking joker man Bob Dylan. Take for example his cryptic lyrics in “Visions of Johanna.” He even comments that Mona Lisa must have had the “highway blues” given how she is smiling in the famed painting (Check out “Visions of Johanna” here at 4:40).

I will defer to the Cambridge Dictionary for its rendition of “smirk,” which is by no means exhaustive: “to smile in a way that expresses satisfaction with yourself or pleasure about having done something or knowing something that is not known by someone else.” Both senses of “smirk” found here may very well be in play with Christopher’s playful expression yesterday. He may have smirked in playful defiance and satisfaction with himself for being able to raise his arms in response. As his CNA said, he has “a very strong will” and “doesn’t back down. He keeps fighting until he prevails.” He may have lowered his arms when she exhorted him. But he was not lowering his heart or will to fight for life.

And just maybe, Christopher knows something that many others do not. He is more there than they think. Those who know him best and are most attentive to him know he is consciously present more often than the casual observer may think. And just maybe, Christopher knows that he is on the rebound, no matter how slow or how long and far his pursuit of meaningful recovery takes him. All I know is that I am putting my money, time, and energy on Christopher in this fight for life. From my front row seat ringside, I can assure you that his overall aura, from the very strong will to the defiant and mischievous smirk, tells me there is a lot of fight left in the young man. So much so, that he helps his old man keep going. If Christopher can keep going, so can I.

Amid the daunting challenges we face, I really believe God smiles on us. God gives us courage and confidence to smirk, to smile, and to laugh. With God, misfortune never has the final word.

Sometimes people smirk when others experience misfortune. That’s not Christopher. Nor is he smirking at our misfortune. Actually, I think his smirk is a total act of defiance in the face of misfortune. For Christopher, misfortune will never have the last laugh.

Maybe I take after my son. I used to get into trouble in my sixth-grade class for sitting at the back of the class and smiling while daydreaming. My teacher, who was also the principal of my Lutheran grade school, called me the “Cheshire cat” because of my grin. What does that mean? According to the Free Dictionary’s definition of “smiling like a Cheshire cat,” it entails: “to grin very broadly and persistently, especially in a smug, mischievous, or self-satisfied manner. The term was popularized by the character in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a cat with the ability to disappear whose wide smile would remain after the rest of it had vanished.” (Check out the video clip here for the exchange between Alice and the Cheshire cat!)

Recall that Christopher’s guardian archangel CNA said the most striking similarity between her brother and Christopher is the smirk. As with the Cheshire cat whose grin remains long after he has vanished, Christopher’s smirk remains in one’s head long after Christopher lowers his arms. It’s part of his aura.

Self-satisfaction, a bit of smugness, and much mischievousness express the aura emanating from my son’s soul. It leaves me smiling wide. You can find me with that Cheshire cat grin daydreaming and praying that deep down inside my son’s brain the neurons are mysteriously firing and rewiring, and meaningful recovery is in the works. One way or another, we will continue to smirk and grin in the face of misfortune. It will not have the last laugh. Christopher will. I for one will smirk to that!

PS: You can find here the various accounts of our journey with Christopher and TBI over the past three years. Thank you for your prayers!

About Paul Louis Metzger
Paul Louis Metzger, Ph.D., is Professor of Theology & Culture, Multnomah University & Seminary; Director of The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins; and Author and Editor of numerous works, including More Than Things: A Personalist Ethics for a Throwaway Culture (IVP Academic, 2023). You can read more about the author here.
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