Yesterday, I was looking through my photo files in search of a particular shot amongst the tens of thousands of files stored on my various drives. Most of those photographs document our journeys through the landscape, visits to sacred places and the beauty and history hidden within our mediaeval churches and cathedrals. Some, though, document the events we have held at many of these places and in particular, the faces of those who have attended, caught, almost inevitably, in laughter.
Just looking at the pictures from those weekend events, I found image after image of smiling faces, happy to share a moment with the camera or caught off guard in merriment. Even the ducks were smiling. And I found myself smiling back. It was not something over which I had any control… each smile drew a response, both in memory and in actuality. The photographs may have been taken a while ago, but the smiles on the screen were my ‘now’… and because I know and love these people too, each smile was familiar, warm and direct. Especially as, nine times out of ten, it had been me who was pointing the camera in the first place.
It was April last year when I wrote ‘A Bridge of Smiles’. Things were not looking good with our world at that point. The virus was biting and fear was oozing in through every crack we allowed. And yet we could still smile and connect with each other… sharing anecdotes and laughter as we waited dutifully in socially distanced lines to be allowed into a shop. That was before masks became mandatory. Before smiles were hidden behind a veil of fabric, before voices and laughter were muffled and the expression of joy made to feel like some kind of guilty pleasure.
All our senses seem to be under attack somehow, from the virus itself depriving many of both taste and smell, to our inability to hug or reach out to one another in times of need and comfort, to the impossibility of seeing each other’s faces or hearing a voice clearly.
We are social creatures deprived of society, tactile beings deprived of touch…and even the brightness of a smile is being hidden away from us. I honestly cannot remember the last time I saw a genuine and spontaneous smile outside of these four walls. That is a sad state of affairs and serves only to emphasise how disconnected many are feeling from each other and from the great stream of life that flows around us.
“Creativity,” wrote Osho, the Indian mystic, “is the greatest rebellion in existence.”
Perhaps we need to be rebelling… finding creative ways in which to break the stranglehold of fear and the ever-increasing restrictions with which our senses are being bound? One woman who cannot be there to offer a hug, for example, sent scarves to wrap her friends in love… a gesture that brought both tears and smiles and there is joy in such beauty.
And yet we are living in a climate where there is so much fear and uncertainty still, with measures being imposed to which few can see a clear end. So many are worried for their homes, families, livelihoods and even their lives… so much damage is being done to mental and emotional health as well as to practical levels of wellbeing. And so much is, or at least appears to be, beyond our control.
There must be as many small ways as there are people in which we can ‘creatively rebel’ against the enforced sensory deprivation that is affecting so many of us worldwide. Whether it is standing in the sunlight, consciously drinking in the moment, making a point of smiling behind the mask or just making eye contact to share a human moment… we can change our own world second by second and perhaps change the world for the better for those around us too. Joy is still there in the small things… and the human heart has a capacity for finding it in the strangest of places, if we give ourselves the chance to look.