Just One Look…

My Facebook feed draws from a wide circle, which is endlessly useful for those times when I want to distract myself from the “To write” list. At present I’m working on next year’s Christmas story (waves to Dante and Lady Joan), a little Christmas tale for this year (waves to Westhaven and Anna), galleys for Douglas and Guinevere (I would douglas_4501-204x327wave, but they seem, um, busy), and some other deadline.

Oh, yeah! I’m getting The Duke and His Duchess ready for audio production, download to be available on Valentine’s Day. Suffice it to say, I’ve been clicking on links I might ignore if I felt less in need of diversion. One of them led to a blog post about a small moment between two soccer moms. First Mom was having the classic bad day–up all night with one sick kid, tagging bases all morning with the healthy kid. Skipped brekkie and lunch, hit some drive through, and was at soccer practice in time for the prodigy to make the bell.

While First Mom stood on the sidelines, wolfing down a burger, another mom came by, looking well put together. The moment ensued, with neither woman saying anything. Second Mom looked First Mom over, and apparently did so wearing an unpleasant expression, then went on her tidy, trim way.

snarky catWhat has taken me aback is not that the First Mom, who apparently carries some extra weight, felt undeservedly shamed by the appraisal of the second–at least temporarily–it’s that commenters on the blog have been rabidly defending the woman with the silent scowl (you’re judging her when she may not be judging you at ALL!), rabidly attacking the defenders of the same woman (she has no right to draw conclusions about a person’s worth based on what they’re eating!), and so on, with much scolding, criticizing and taking of sides.

What I take from that vignette is that when we judge, particularly when we judge emphatically and repeatedly, somebody probably made us feel judged (and wanting) first. We lose our grip on compassion when we need it most–when somebody’s in such a miserable place that negativity radiates from them and makes us feel criticized and belittled without a word being spoken.

At that moment when our self-respect threatens to collapse, we need compassion for ourselves–I too have scarfed up less than optimal nutrition on those bad days–but we also need it for the people who look mean and nasty when they’re simply walking around a kids’ soccer field.

smiling kittenAnd this too: At the moment when First Mom might have said, “Please don’t be too hard on me. I have one sick kid home with my exhausted husband, one whining that he doesn’t want to miss practice, no time for myself, and no friends I can call at the last minute to bail me out,” all it took was a look to keep her quiet.

Just one look, when just one smile might have turned the entire day in a different direction.

When did somebody smile at you, commiserate, lend a hand, and turn the whole day around? To one commenter, I’ll send a $25 Amazon gift card.

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65 comments on “Just One Look…

  1. Grace,
    You always have good things to say. I think we, (as in the royal we) have forsaken compassion to stand on the pedestal of judgement and pride to make ourselves feel less vulnerable and fragile, because it is a well known fact to most us how much we fail. When if we acted with kindness and compassion we would make our lives and the lives of other so much sweeter. You have done well in reminding me of this tonight, so thanks Grace, well done you.

    • I think we’re all more scared is what it comes down to, and this makes little sense. Violent crime is down, wretched poverty world-wide is down, juvenile crime in every major US city is down, literacy is up…

      And yet, we’re made to feel daily as if the Apocalypse approaches, in part, I believe, because this kind of news is believed to grab market share.

      • I would completely agree Grace. Did you know the play the news when they do to tap into that fear, so people will tune in next-time. Sad isn’t it?!
        Joy I think and positivity are like breaths of fresh as is Hope. I love in “The Pilgrim’s Progress (have you read it?) How the charter of Hope defeats the giant of despair
        There is something good about knowing that Faith, Hope and Love will last forever.
        Keep up the good work and have an inspired day.

  2. Going the other way – I was in a book store a few weeks ago and there was a Mom and child who obviously needed to be home. Things were not going good. Within my hearing, the mother called the child “bad” – as in the child not the actions – five times and my hurt heart but I was pretty sure she wasn’t interested in my opinion. As I walked out to the car, Mom was just closing the back door and getting into her seat so I smiled and said sounds like someone’s ready for their nap and she smiled back and said yes… and me too. And now I’m hoping that the universe will provide her with some label the action not the child information. I would guess that my smile was more helpful than any lecture and I’m glad I’ve learned not to wade in all the time.

    • Well done of you, Myrna! We’re so susceptible to judgement as parents, and I find that when I’m starting down that path, inevitably my own child-rearing issues have taken over the control panel, and whoever’s having a meltdown in the produce section has just pushed my buttons, and usually my little girl buttons, not my experienced mom buttons.

      And who hasn’t had a day when a nap would have turned the whole freight train around?

  3. Friendship, compassion and kindness are three important gifts in life.
    Eight years ago this November, I had major surgery. I was in the hospital for 5 days and had an expected recovery period of 8 weeks.
    I returned home to a anxious 12 year old, two adult corgis, an impy16 week corgi puppy ,a stressed out husband and the Thanksgiving holidays fast approaching.
    My doctors final words to me were “Don’t stress, Susan.” Ha….!
    How was everything going to get done? Jenny needed to get to practice, CCD and ballet. The dogs needed to be walked. And who was going to cook the turkey?!
    My husband went back to work and a wonderful friend came to see me , kept me company and walked my dogs. Several friends brought dinners. A couple of friends came and helped with the yard work. Moms chipped in and got Jenny were she needed to be. And our dear friends surprised us with a complete turkey dinner from a local turkey farm.
    During this time of the year, I remember how so many of our friends were to us during that Thanksgiving. I believe in paying it forward. We have helped friends who have had financial difficulties. It’s a great feeling to give back and to see their smiles.

  4. They’re doing construction in the library where I work so I’ve asked to not work in the Reference Room temporarily. I feel bad but the dust really affects me. My one co-worker,Don, has been super supportive during all this. Wish all my co-workers understood.

  5. The day I miscarried I was beyond emotional, and met up with a good friend on the bus coming home from the doctors. We had coffee that day and while it didn’t completely take the emotions away it did help me to feel like I wasn’t going to be alone in it.

    • I am sorry for your loss. It’s devastating at any stage to miscarry. You are never alone and I am glad that there was a hand when you needed it. Sending hugs from an understanding heart…

      • Am so sorry for your loss. Mandy is correct– you are never alone. am glad that you had a friend to help you. Sending hugs to you.

    • This is a grief that doesn’t get enough respect, Misty. My condolences to you and your partner on this loss, and thank heavens for even a cup of kindness. Sometimes, it can make a huge difference.

  6. I usually am the one giving the looks or helping out. Whether it’s putting groceries in a vehicle for a harried mom or holding a door with a smile for someone who looks down or getting the cup of coffee for a frowny face behind me… I don’t know why people don’t do more for each other. A look says so much. So much, in fact, that the first time my husband looked at me without hiding all the pain he carried — the first time he let me see HIM? I knew I would happily spend the rest of my life getting rid of that look. Nine years later, that look is gone and I keep helping mostly because of that…

  7. I am fortunate to live in a place where people love to be helpful. A greeting, a smile, advice, we had it all here. Which is one of the things I love about the island. Yet, one instance of helpfulness in particular has stood out over the years. I was in Naples, Italy with my son who was about 13 years at the time. We were in a restaurant, and he decided talk back to me. Before I could say a word, the waiter, a young man, came over, speared my son with a look, and said, “You do not speak to your mother that way. She deserves respect.”

    My son mumbled an apology. He’s never forgotten it either.

  8. A friend just offered to take my daughter and her horse, in her trailer, for a TRAIL RIDE. My daughter is in the first weeks of school to be a radiographer, is stressed to the max. THIS offer of a trail ride, on the horse that loves her, and who she loves…is such a sweet blessing! She’s smiling through her stress right now.

    Sometimes, all it takes IS a smile.

    May a smile come YOUR way today!

  9. Smiling is such an easy thing to do, it’s a shame more people don’t do it more often. It not only makes others feel better, but the person smiling does too! I’m so glad both my daughters go out of their way to be friendly too. I am constantly told how nice they are and I know it shows in their work places too.

  10. Ah, the number one rule of retail: smile at the customer. I tend to always smile at the lone kid in the hall (when they are en masse I am just yanking them around by their backpacks because they have this annoying tendency to just STOP in the middle of the hall to have a conversation). I smile at the kid that yells my name (and it’s probably a little more genuine that the one the lone kid gets). I’m simply acknowledging that, yes, I see them and no I don’t necessarily remember what I was giving you down the road about yesterday. Does it make a difference? I’m in a business where you never know what, if anything, is making a difference. I can live with that.

    However, I apparently can give that judgmental look with out any real meaning behind it. Honestly, the look that was on my face was way, way harsher than any thoughts I was actually thinking.

    • Sabrina, that last point came out in the soccer mom comments, but it tended to come out unkindly: How you KNOW she was thinking mean thoughts? You’re MEAN, to project that judgment onto her. You need to get your issues in a bag, and stop blaming everybody because you can’t plan your meals…

      I couldn’t believe the vitriol that got loose in what could easily have been a respectful sharing of perspectives.

      I do not have a pretty, cheery face. I can only hope this has not made anybody feel harshly judged.

  11. Such a profound blog, Grace. My husband is always asking me why I have a smile on my face, even during tense moments, and my reply is that it is so much easier to wear a smile than a scowl, as he usually does. It’s not that I am such a “up” person (though I do try to be), but I find that I put myself in a much happier mood if my facial and body language show it. I also love it now that I am living back in the South where people just seem to be a lot friendlier. I have had my moments walking around a store where having a stranger smile and say hi to me has had me smiling and making me walk a little more jauntily. It seems a smile goes a long way to giving others a little joy where there may not have been any before that.

    • I think you’re absolutely right–the genuine smile shines in all directions, to those who wear it and those who see it. Same with the judgmental scowl (meaning no disrespect to Himself).

  12. Earlier this week I took the three older boys (Seth was in school) on a “short” trip to a grocery store I don’t shop at very often. We needed to get somethings so I could pack a lunch for my 8 year old, who was going on a field trip the next day and treats for the twins to take to school for the birthday celebration. Of course the twins being the twins had to look at everything and put some extra stuff in the cart as well. At the check out I was handing the cashier stuff that we didn’t need to buy and apologizing for the extra work I was creating. While I was busy with that Jonathan was trying to get a bag for the little pumpkin he insisted on having. The lady bagging the groceries is normally a cashier but was helping out and she was being so patient with Jonathan and trying to find him a small bag. She could have been short with him for getting in her way, but instead made my day by being nice to him and understanding. This is the same cashier who defended me a few months ago when Seth made it out of the store without either one of us seeing him disappear from the soda cooler he was playing at, but that’s another story. I don’t know if she remembered me or not, but I certainly remembered her.

    • Good lord, the adventures you have shopping with your merry men! Thanks heavens for that cashier. I want to write a letter to her boss, telling him or her about how to win repeat business among the moms with kids.

  13. Yesterday was not a great day for me and when I came home there was a letter sitting on my bed from my husband. It just said how much he loves me and what an amazing person he thinks I am. It made my day a lot better. Also I am a shy person and I can’t tell you how many times that that someone thought I was stuck up or that I felt I was better than someone. It’s not true at all, so to make a assumption about what another person is thinking is wrong. Thanks for the contest!

  14. This is a topic I could go all out on. And in so many directions as well. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer back in February I knew the attitudes of others was going to play a major role in all that I go through. I knew I needed to surround myself with family and friends who were positive and could keep me feeling good. For the most part everyone has been wonderful, from my husband all the way down to the nursing assistants who helped to take care of me while recovering from one of my multiple surgeries.
    One of the nurses while I was in the hospital was in a very bad mood and it was on one of the days that I was feeling at my worst, that day I was not in the mood to try and be nice and see if I could get her in a better mood, so I mentioned her to my mother and she in turn mentioned it to the head nurse who removed her from my rotation. I felt bad about it. Truly. I have always been one to notice that you can turn someone else’s day around with a smile, compliment or commiseration. I know what its like to have a bad day and sometimes it hard not to have a bad attitude when you’ve got so much going on in your own life. I had the same nurse again about a week later, she was a totally different person the second time around, I couldn’t have asked for a friendlier or more helpful nurse. But still when I look back, I remember the first time I met her more than that second better experience. I have had a few more nurses like that since then and am currently experiencing the same with one of my Chemo nurses. I know she does this same job every day, I can’t imagine its a very happy experience but I just want to say to her…cheer up, everyone in here is either thinking they might die from this or are going to and they really need people to be a little sunnier around them. Either that or just give her a great big HUG and tell her its going to be okay!

    • My mom was a nurse, and it’s admittedly a tough profession, more of a calling than a craft, overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated.

      That said, you are fighting for your life, and the chances are the nurse is fighting with her husband. Her lack of cheer can have serious consequences to the people in her care.

      One tactic I sometimes employ is to try to catch the morale runt doing something right, to find something about them to compliment and approve of. Sometimes, the deflector shields drop, but sometimes… They just need to be transferred to a different shift.

      Is there anything we can do to keep you in good spirits and winning the fight?

  15. My pretty little granddaughter can turn my whole world upside down with just one little smile. It seems to come right from her heart to mine!

  16. I don’t think I was ever lucky enough to receive a commiserating smile and nod. I have mentally commiserated with a mom and a child who needed to be home in bed napping, but never walked up and patted her shoulder. Your stories make me wish I had.

    • The chapter’s just starting Anne. I’m sure if you turned your focus onto “Who could use a smile?” “Who could use an email?” your imagination will come through for you.

      Just yesterday, I was plodding through Douglas’s galleys, second-guessing myself: Does this scene need to be in here? Do those sound like words Douglas would say?

      A reader sent me an email saying she knew my books worked for her because she didn’t skip big chunks of the prose. She read every word.

      It took her five minutes to write that email, but she saved me a lot of second-guessing. You have the same magic wand.

  17. If you want to get lost in beautiful, well thought out and written blog…try visiting The Hands Free Mama (I’m not associated with her in any way, except as a fan.)

  18. The look on a child’s face when you have answered an unanswerable question to their satisfaction. The look on a friends face when you have offered support in a difficult situation.
    The look on your adult child’s face when you have affirmed their feelings. The “look” or expression on their faces is priceless. God’s gift for wordless support.

    • I recall when I was about seventeen, and my mother and I were at daggers drawn over my choice of romantic partner. Mom had in fact, kicked me out of the house, and I’d packed up and left without hesitation. My dad hadn’t really taken sides–I don’t think he had all the particulars–but at one point, I ran into him on campus and his comment to me was, essentially, your mother sometimes overreacts and this will all sort itself out.

      It was as close to disloyal as either of my parents has ever been to the other, but his words were a life line to me. He said, in so many words, “this too shall pass,” which is a comfort, but also, “you are not crazy.”

      Not sure who else could have said that to me and had it mean as much.

  19. Hey Grace!

    Now that was a great post!
    First, I had put myself in that situation [I had to! because I bet I was in it neon’s ago] and the only thing I know for sure that I would have done, being either of those women. would have to burst out laughing, approached the mom and raised my hand in ‘GIVE ME FIVE, WOMAN’ Good for you! I would have known what Mom #1 went through and my ‘five’ would have been a commiserating one…As #1 mom, my ‘five’ would have been to #2 as ‘Damn, but I want to know your secret! Good for you’!

    As for when someone made me feel special with one word or a look, that actually happened couple of weeks ago after my cat’s surgery. I had to leave the cat alone at home, and even though my hubby was at home too [he’s working nights, so he’s asleep most of the day], I was a wreck at work because the cat was in pain, I knew it…but as I’m on my computer hitting the keys, all of a sudden my FB started blinking away, and pic after pic kept coming, with little info about how he’s eating, walking and lounging….My DH woke up, and spent couple of hrs with the cat, petting it, talking to him…and sending me pics…That was too cool! Made my week!



  20. This is such a great reminder for me to keep that smile on my face – my mouth naturally turns down when my face is at rest, I can’t tell you how many times people have told me to smile because they think I’m in a bad mood when I’m not. I know it does make a big difference in so many situations to put that smile on my face, whether I feel like smiling or not. It has made a difference to me many times when someone gives me a smile or speaks to me, it can turn the whole day around.

    • We learn to read facial expressions early, early in life. We don’t learn as well or as often that sometimes, a person is just tired, self-conscious about their teeth, or otherwise not inclined naturally to smiling.

      I’ve always found dolphins a bit suspicious though, until I learned they have sex about every thirty minutes…

  21. This happens to me and from me on facebook all the time. I’m pretty sure facebook is the most encouraging place on earth. I get and give more positive reinforcement there than anywhere. However, if you want an excuse not to work, there’s always facebook . . . both for distraction and for friends who will encourage me to not work.

  22. This past Sunday we had a pot luck lunch after church instead of the usual Sunday School class. Being the loner that I am I picked a seat at an empty table only to have the class president come over shortly after I sat down and invite me to join her, her husband and another couple at their table. Then in class today the new president asked me to tell the class about an email I sent out, which I did. It’s nice to feel like you’re part of something even though you’re a loner. I’ve received “that look” many a time because I’m a little bit overweight and I don’t dress in the latest styles. I’m also disabled from arthritis so I tend to dress for comfort more than anything. My clothes are clean and neat and to me that’s most important.

    • Molly, good for you. When the class president came over, you might have said, “I’m fine where I am,” but you accepted a friendly overture, when even changing tables can be a production with walker.

      And as for fashion… I feel sorry for the folks who have to dress to impress, because at some point, all the pretty clothes in the world won’t make you young and beautiful any more… on the outside.

      • Grace my walker was parked over to the side and sitting with them actually put me close to it when it came time to leave. lol As for the walker, it’s a typical GI- government issue for those who aren’t familiar with the abbreviation- item. It’s the third one I’ve had, the first lasted 4 1/2 years, the second one I had for about a month when the rubber started coming off of the left front tire. I took it back expecting to spend about 30 minutes waiting for them to change out the tire only to find out they don’t do things like that! I was given another new walker and laughed at the little green sticker on the seat that read “OK condition”. Now I’m wondering about that sticker because I’ve got a bolt and the washer that goes with it laying on the chair I use for a bedside table. I tried to borrow a wrench from my neighbor, he does maintenance for the trailer park I live in, to put the bolt back in the walker and tighten it completely but he doesn’t have one what will fit. The spot in the middle of the bolt is 6 sided so you need a special tool for it. I guess I’ll take it back to prosthetics on Monday and see if they can tighten it for me or if I’ll wind up with walker number four. I wouldn’t worry but that bolt holds the left legs of the walker to the seat frame and is essential.

  23. from my experience those who judge to harshly are perhaps ones who have been taken advantage by those very people one has tried to help

  24. I have one friend who is overly critical & questions everything I do, but I try to keep in mind that she is separated from her husband & has been unlucky in finding someone new that sticks. I have another friend who sends me positive texts when things get me down. Sometimes you need a little hope!

    • Sharlene, you have to wonder how somebody who’s fazer is stuck on negative expects to find an enduring relationship? But some of us have trouble learning from the rough patches, and we unwittingly do the very things likely to make them recur.

  25. I was a military brat and shortly after we relocated to a new base I became very ill and missed a little over a week of school. I was shy and had not had a chance to make any friends yet so I was dreading going back. My fever broke one night & my father insisted I go to school the next day even though I was still not feeling well. All the way to school I begged him to let me stay home just one more day. I sat in the car still begging when he finally dragged me out of the car and left me crying in front of everybody. My first period teacher saw everything ignored it all, even making a snide comment to another student. I was still miserable by the end of class. My second period teacher had a habit of greeting everybody at the door, she took one look at my face, put her arms around me and led me down the hall were she held me and just talked for 5 minutes or so. Just those few minutes made such a difference, without her I’m not sure that I would have made it through the rest of the week- much less the rest of the day.

    • Teaching is a vocation, is a calling, is a sacred trust–and what’s on the syllabus isn’t the half of it. Glad Mrs. Second Period came through for you, and wonder what your Dad would have said if he’d heard that first period teacher snarking on a kid. SHAME on her!

  26. I can’t remember such an occasion at the moment, but I know my daughter-in-law is the person who smiles, commiserates and lends a hand. I want to be like her when I grow up! You’ve also reminded me that I need to be aware of opportunities to be kind and caring.

    • Diane, my daughter has often “become the rose” in my life. Don’t know how that happened–she’s had a tough start in many regards, but I’m tremendously grateful for her kind heart.

  27. I had been under the weather for almost four weeks with two tooth abscesses and and two rounds of antibiotics. I finally determined to do more than drag myself to dental appointments and the grocery store and got myself to a church meeting. The hugs and smiles that greeted me were a balm to too much introspection and pain.

    Sometimes we just need a little of the milk of human kindness to counteract a terrible, lousy, no good, very bad day, week or month.

    (During my month of painful and sometimes pain killer doped up solitude, I am sure those who did get to see my face probably did not think I was a balm to their pain. Who knows . . . maybe Mom 2 had a bad tooth day. It happens to the best put together of us.)

    • I used to get regular three-day migraines. I’m sure I was Mom Two frequently, and that’s a good thing to keep in mind. I’m also Mom One, though.

      Glad your teefe are doing better. I wore braces for five years, and tooth pain is diabolically awful.

  28. More than once in the months just after my fiance was killed random strangers walked up to me and asked if they could give me a hug; that I looked so shattered they were drawn to offer consolation. Very humbling and often that key piece of support that got me through that moment or day. I try to remember them more than the people who judged or disparaged my feelings.

    • People who judge and disparage grief (and its attendant rage and depression) are fragile people. Thank goodness for those random strangers who are more loving and courageous. They light candles in a very oppressive darkness.

  29. Indonesia has become one of the forms of democracy and democracy is one of them is the freedom to speak out on issues about Lady GagaI hope may not lead to anarchy and remain safe and orderly