Do you ever have the opportunity to make a wish and you want so much, and you want so big, that you let the words get washed away in a warm flood of emotion? Sometimes, the wish becomes a wordless, imageless rush of receptivity. Other times, I focus on an area of my life or a person in it, and invite all that is needed for flourishing. Every time I blow out the candles, spy the first evening star, or happen to glance up at 11:11, I have the opportunity to wish everything right for a sick child, a suffering friend, humankind in general, or our own fickle fortune.
This past weekend, at the Smiles Are Free event for my former student, Korri, I would make a wish along with hundreds of people who were touched by this girl. I knew this would be a powerful one, and so I would have to generalize and wish for everything at once. I could leave nothing out. Were there words to sum it all up, what I wanted for myself and for Korri’s family, for all those who loved her, for all those I loved, for my fellow Sandy sufferers, for Steve and myself? Were there words for this moment?
They had to come from Korri. And she made it quite obvious what the words should be.
We stood huddled against the chilly wind, gripping our balloon strings with numbed fingers, under a sign entreating us to DREAM BIG. Korri, of such small stature, had a smile that encompassed the world. She was everywhere at once. When she fell, our worlds were rocked but hers was not. When she stood again, steadfast in reaching her goals, she didn’t so much push herself up as she pulled the earth back into place for all of us. Then she giggled. Silly world. Did you think I would stop?
And so I say, Silly world, did you think we would stop? Just roll over and let you rock us? Korri, you showed me how to get up and laugh. I am DREAMING BIG and I believe. We will get up and get there. Where? I don’t know, but it will be big. Everything is. There was nothing novel or astounding waiting at the end of that school hallway when Korri righted the earth after stumbling. It was just one more trip to Music class, or to the bus. It was life, and to Korri it all was big. Get up, get going, carry on, live life, live life big. Sing loud, perhaps horrifying others while amusing yourself and your friends. Get on that noisy, big-kid bus with determination and confidence. Climb those giant steps and take your place in the front seat.
And smile. When I released my balloon, I knew I would whisper the words, “Dream big.”
But then there was also Korri’s favorite phrase. It was everywhere—on the T-shirts and sweatshirts for sale and on the smiley-stickered notebooks decorated by her fourth grade friends, all to benefit the Little People of America. She wouldn’t let us forget: Smiles are free.
Campgrounds might cost $42 per night instead of $24. Lifting the house might cost us $70,000 more when all is said and done. So what if we paid $8,000 to restore an oil heating system we are no longer going to use and another $8,000 for a drainage system we are going to bury in the sand.
Smiles are free. They can be made without any materials. You can get one for nothing. Smiles don’t lift houses but they lift spirits and we all know what is sacred though we often forget. Times like these remind us, and kids like Korri remind us.
I let go of my balloon and I didn’t make a wish, not really. Taking a deep breath, I thought, “Dream big. Smiles are free. Keep dreaming. Keep smiling. And all will be as it should. Thank you, Korri.” And then I raised my camera to the sight of balloons carrying dreams and spreading smiles across the south shore of Long Island, where they are sorely needed.
Are you smiling? C’mon. It might not always be easy but at least it’s still free.
(see survey below)
Survey: We have smiled at everyone since this process began. Steve brought cookies to the building department. We thank people profusely. We totally let a guy get away with breaking our patio with his dumpster. We laughed. Told him nothing phased us. So the next day, I guess he figured it wouldn’t phase us if he refused to come pick it up. Anyway–my question here: are we too nice? Sometimes it seems to help us. Sometimes it seems to hurt us. We’d rather be nice, have conversations, make friends, and smile. What do you think? In the end, does it all even out? Do the advantages of being nice eventually equal or even surpass the advantages of being aggressive? Should we stay true to our natures or start expressing our dissatisfaction more forcefully?