I stopped by Smith's today on my way home from work. As usual, I was frazzled from a long day of work: nine hours of reading off a computer screen, fighting with html code, editing other people's writing and trying not to get too worked up over questions that end in periods, and wondering how the heck this not having a real boss thing could ever work. I wanted to get the errand done as fast as humanly possible so I could begin my de-stressing exercise at home.
I've become a bit of a champion quick grocery shopper. On days like today when I only have to stock up on the essentials, it almost takes more time to walk from my car to the store's entrance than it does to grab the items I need and whip them through the fast lane. Within minutes of entering the store, I exited it with my two bags of groceries and my gallon of milk.
The only thing separating me from my car was the old man monitoring the basket of coins and dollar bills that hurried shoppers left for charity on their way out. Usually I avoid these stations, but that's really hard to do during this time of year when volunteers are stationed at every entrance of every store. So I settled for my next-most effective avoidance maneuver: I tried not to look the man in the eye and quickened my pace a little.
As I passed him, the man said, "Merry Christmas." I risked a glance back, and saw that he was smiling a genuine smile, his eyes sparkling a bit under his bushy, gray eyebrows. If I still believed in Santa Claus, I would have been convinced that this man was Santa in disguise. He looked as if he wanted nothing more than to ring the cheap bell outside in the cold as people rushed passed him avoiding his gaze. His smile was the most real thing I've seen all week. It washed away my stress and fatigue quicker than an episode of Boy Meets World could.
I drove home thinking about all the smiles I had received that week—the ones that were only there out of politeness or because someone wanted something. I thought about all the smiles I hadn't received, like when I went to my ward Christmas party on Monday.
But the only thing that really mattered was that old man. He didn't smile because he was about to ask me a favor, nor did he keep his smile to himself because he sensed that I wasn't friendly. He just smiled. I doubt he knows what a gift that smile was to me, but it'll be at the top of my list of "gratefuls" when I go to sleep tonight.