That Marvelous Smile
When we missed that crucial flight to Atlanta we were feeling very much depressed. We didn’t know anybody in the city, no connections what so ever. The airport authorities were unable to say when the next flight would be. It could be two hours or more, they said. The weather was cloudy and there was a fierce wind blowing out side the airport terminal.
We sat down in the passenger lobby perplexed as to what to do. Of course we could check into some hotel but we were not sure for how long.
We were supposed to attend the wedding of a close friend’s son on the next day. A good friend of the family, Matthew attended all our family functions. We were very keen to witness this wedding.
We were still sitting there discussing the best way to reach our destination in time.
From the corner of my eye I saw someone passing by our seats. I however, didn’t pay much attention because airport is a big place and many people come and go. The man, who passed us by, stopped and turned towards us. I noticed he limped a bit leaning more on the right leg. As I was watching a little curiously, he came towards us and said,
‘Hi there, remember me?’ he smiled.
I looked at him searching my memory. Suddenly I knew him.
‘Oh! Yes. I know you. We met on that flight from Boston, didn’t we?’
‘Yes my friend! We did. I have been looking for you wherever I went. I wanted to thank you for everything I am today.’
I remember this man very well. It happened about four years ago. I was going to meet my sister who lived in New Jersey. My husband stayed back with my son’s family in Boston. It was a bright morning in April. The weather was still very cold with the temperature in the fifties. The flight took off in time and we settled down to enjoy the drinks they served aboard. The young man beside me looked a little tired and most of the time kept his head buried in the newspaper or a magazine. He wasn’t anxious to talk to me.
I took out a book by that amazing man and a great physicist Stephen Hawking, ‘A Brief History of Time’. My son who loves Physics gave it to me. Even to someone like me whose first love was not math by any measure, the book was interesting. After reading a few passages, I reclined on the seat and closed my eyes.
‘Can I borrow that book please?’ asked a hesitant voice from my side. I saw this pale youth looking anything but happy. His face was shorn of any kind of feeling and his eyes wore a sad and agitated look. I felt overcome with sympathy.
‘Why, dear, certainly! You can keep it if you like.’ I said smiling into his eyes. His young face brightened immediately. With great enthusiasm he started pouring into the contents of the book.
Before we landed at the airport, I said good-bye to the lad and asked him to keep the book. He was very happy at that. We parted ways a little later.
Now I face him again. The change is remarkable. He is no longer the callow, sad-faced youth but a dignified gentleman. Confidence and well being shone through the man. Most importantly he smiled a lot and looked happy and cheerful.
He sat beside us, my husband and I. He got some coffee for all and chatted pleasantly.
‘My name is Brian Southerland. I am the only son of my parents. The family is very rich. My parents moved in high society. I had everything except love and the feeling of being wanted. To get away from being lonely I made a lot of friends but wrong friends. It took no time to fall into the traps that money opens. I thought that was the ultimate joy of life. I paid no attention to my studies. I didn’t care. Study and hard work were not important for me.
I met with an accident when a friend of mine in a drunken state drove the car into a ditch.’
‘‘What would you like to do?’’ asked my father after I recouped from the injury to my right leg. They didn’t know the reason for my moroseness. I felt they never cared to find out either. That made me sadder and resigned. If own parents do not know what bothers their kid how would strangers know? That was the question that bothered me. You know, even the rich are hungry for love.
That was my state in brief when I met you on the flight Ma’m. You were special from the outset. Many people smile at me, a superficial gesture mostly. I never paid much attention to them.
On that day surprisingly, I liked your gentle way and considerateness not to bother me. I felt interested about the book you were reading. I heard about Professor Hawking though I never bothered to enquire more about his remarkable achievement.
I remember your warm smile. It reached out to me with great love and power. I felt for the first time I must do something worthy of that smile. It ignited energy and enthusiasm in me. I kept your smile on my mind as a loving keepsake and a motivator.
Everything changed from then onwards. I went back to school. If Stephen Hawking could do wonders with his crippling health condition, as a young man of twenty I should be doing better.! I felt charged with energy and a thirst for a new beginning, kindled in me.’
‘‘Son are you sure of what you are opting for?’’ my father asked when I was preparing for admission into Carnegie Mellon college for a Master’s in Computer Science.
‘Yes Dad. I am interested in the subject’ I replied with my eyes on the notes I was preparing for the entrance exams.
‘’All the best son. I am happy at your choice.’’ I felt a new closeness with my parents, which I never knew before. I understood that if I think positively everybody appears close.
My attitude to people in general had changed. I stopped talking down to them. Paying attention to what they said, I observed, never failed to please them. I discovered a new pleasure in simple things such as exchanging a pleasant word.
My teachers and my parents helped me in my preparation by doing their best.
‘‘Brian darling, you got a registered letter. Come on down dear,’’ called my mom from the patio.
I came down eagerly and opened the envelop with the crest of the Carnegie Mellon on it.
‘Mom! Dad! I got it! Thank you God!’ I said at the height of excitement.
My parents hugged me and celebrated the event by throwing a small party in the evening. I owe all this to your smile Ma’m. Your kind words kept echoing in my ears and stayed with me.
The next four years were the happiest in my life. I found my forte. My pleasure of studies, my passion for math and my binding interest in computers – everything came to me like a dream coming true. I was lucky to have got a great adviser, selfless and committed. Last month I finished the final year. I got a seat in PhD at the MIT.
I am going to Atlanta. My adviser is now a professor in Georgia Tech. I wanted his blessing before I join the PhD program.
We were listening to this amazing account of the young man so engrossed, that we were unaware of time. There was a bright sun shining through the glass partitions. Its rays shone on the marble floor and the light deflected on all of us. There was no trace of gray and the wind changed to a gentle breeze.
‘Brian, that was the most wonderful thing I ever heard.’ I said with tears in my eyes. It was impossible not to become emotional at such a true to life experience.
‘Our hearty Congratulations Brian, for making it to the great MIT,’ said my husband smiling at the young man.
‘Your attention please! Passengers bound for Atlanta can now proceed to gate four for security check before boarding flight no 239’. The announcement sounded sweet to our worried selves.
‘Wow! That’s wonderful! Now we will reach the wedding avenue well before time.’ I exclaimed in joy. We told Brian of our earlier concern regarding the flight.
‘Oh, Come on folks it is time to go. By the way I will be with you on the flight. I will drop you guys wherever it is you want to go,’ Brian said cheerfully as he led the way.
In those golden moments of joy I discovered that my happy and honest smile went far in changing the life of a lonely and misguided boy. That simple smile aroused feelings of joy and happiness in both the giver and the receiver. It resulted in his harmonious growth and development in the path he chose and directed him to his goals.