Here’s What We Can Do Now: Smile
I did something I regret yesterday.
Acting purely on instinct, I rushed past the maintenance man in my apartment building as I hurried towards my first taste of the outside world in days. I adore this man — whenever you ask for anything, he is at your door immediately to inquire how he can help. He is quiet, kind and warm. But as he came into my orbit, fear swept through me. Another person. Is he dangerous to me? Am I dangerous to him?
Coronavirus is altering my instincts. An extrovert, I normally consider each person I encounter as a potential friend. I am the girl who talks to strangers in line at the coffee shop and at the supermarket. I love seeing what I have in common with people, wondering if we grew up near each other, travel to the same places or share similar taste in books or films.
But now, on instinct, I fear people. I rushed past the maintenance man, positioning myself as far away as possible in our narrow hallway, without realizing what I was doing. He was looking at me, the friendly girl he always exchanged smiles with, and when I realized what I had done and turned back, I gave him a warm smile, and he matched mine. We were friends again.
When I headed outside, to a park near me in Santa Monica, I was careful to stay as far away from people as possible. When laughing families or friends walked by me, too close, I glanced at them with disdain. Were they not reading the news? Did I need to explain social distancing?
Afraid to sit on a bench, I stood up and read, pushing my long sleeves up to my elbows and hoping to absorb enough vitamin D to sustain me through several more days quarantined in my apartment. Indoors where it is safe. Indoors where no one can infect me. Indoors where I can’t infect anyone if I am one of the carriers but have no idea.
And then I saw something that stopped me in my tracks. A homeless women was conversing with a teenage guy walking by. They were friendly, but at the end of the conversation the woman reached her hand out to shake his, and he backed away, waving his hand from side to side to indicate no. She looked hurt. She put out her fist and moved it towards his. I saw him hesitate, then make a first and bump hers. They smiled at each other and laughed, but I worried for him. I worried for her. Was that safe?
We are in a surreal time. We are social animals, like dolphins and penguins, whom we always see in groups, or birds flocking together in symphony. But we can’t be social now, not in the way we normally would.
What we can do, though, is smile. We can cross the barrier of six feet of social distancing with the warmth of human connection. A simple upturn in the corners of our mouths can turn our fear into kindness and spread the love we naturally feel for our closest friends and family to everyone we pass, a smile directed to everyone and anyone in our neighborhoods.
This is the perfect time to smile at the homeless people we pass who are more vulnerable than us, the grocery workers risking their health by stocking our shelves, and the man or woman who looks different from us in every way, and yet now we share so much in common.
Many of us feel powerless. Many of us wonder what we can do. At the very least we can smile at each other. And recognize that we are all human. We are in this together. We can be kind to each other, even now, even at a distance.
Dina Kaplan is a certified meditation teacher who leads online Meditation Teacher Training programs. Dina is also founder and CEO of The Path, which teaches meditation for the modern mind, including corporate wellness programs, private meditation coaching and the renowned Mela meditation retreat. Dina has guided meditations, retreats and corporate meditations across the U.S. and around the world. Previously Dina co-founded a web video start-up and was an Emmy award-winning news reporter. She has been named a Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Entrepreneur and has published articles about mindfulness in The New York Times, Marie Claire, Town & Country, Today.com, Time Magazine’s Motto brand, Forbes.com and more. Please follow Dina at @dinakaplan on Instagram, follow The Path at @the.path and join Dina for meditations and more at thepath.com.