A few months ago I was standing on my doorstep one night rooting through my bag for my keys in order to open the door. As I looked up, I saw (what I assume to be) a white stray cat strolling across the street. I remember weirdly standing for a minute to admire it; stray cats I see are not usually white so it was a rare sight. It’s white stood out beautifully against the darkness of the London night.
Like that cat maybe we should start wearing what makes us different more proudly on our sleeves. I say this as someone who recently feels like they’ve been in a lot of spaces where they’ve felt so…different and out of place. Sometimes it was because I was black, sometimes it was because of my faith, other times it was simply because I felt like an introvert surrounded by larger-than-life extroverts. At times like that, it can be tempting to either shrink back to try to survive the situation by suppressing your difference so you can camouflage into your environment.
It’s definitely true that differences can be isolating. But differences can be empowering once fully owned and the beauty of them is fully understood. Admittedly, it is a learning process- and not an easy one; one that Is part of the wider journey of learning about and loving yourself. Don’t be someone who holds their differences tightly to their chest scared they might be noticed or zoomed in on. Instead, if like me, you often find yourself feeling such a way in certain social environments I want to challenge you to be a bold different from now on.
Smiling is a beautiful thing- and I mean a genuine smile. A crescent moon of happiness on the face. A snapshot of laughter. When the joy inside of you bubbles over it can’t help but show from the outside too. I fully believe no-one can do too much of it. In fact, it doesn’t take much to feel like London is a miserable place for many that needs more smiles. I’ll often be quite tired and focused on my commute to work but when I get a smile from a fellow commuter on the train- although usually taken aback and suspicious in the first few seconds I always return the smile. And as we silently stand radiating mutual positivity in this weird but normal facial language, things change. My mood lifts a little as I go back to whatever I was doing and I realise, wow I really needed that.
Similarly, when I’m out and about, the people I actually find that smile the most freely and often are children. Especially babies, they have no logic behind their smiles sometimes but they will happen anyway. It’s therefore interesting that as we grow older we become more cautious with our smiles; only directing them towards we know and trust. Our smiles become sacred currency not many can access. We start to rationalise what should be a natural and easy thing, meaning we start to much less of it.
There’s so much in this life that is beautiful and that we should be grateful for; I try to remind myself of that every day (and trust me, it may be obvious but it can still be hard.)Even if you reflect on your current situation and 8/10 things are going wrong, smile because you have the other two things to be grateful for.
I’ve always been fascinated with this idea of everyone hiding a secret pain and suffering. That perhaps the strong person welding a smile or air of politeness there’s pain lingering inside. I remember when I was in primary school and in music class we learned The Beatles’ song ‘Eleanor Rigby’. In the song is the line:
‘Eleanor Rigby…waits at the window, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door,
who is it for?’
I remember my young mind literally imagining a lady carefully taking a pale mask out of a jar each day and applying it to her face as she steps out of her door and into the world. But of course, nowadays- now that I am older I see it differently. Each of us wears a mask out of necessity because let’s be honest; I’m sure there have been many times where someone has asked ‘how are you?‘ and you’ve wanted to say ‘not great’ but held back. For me, that happens way too often but I’m sure its a common occurrence for many. But every time we grin and nod that’s our mask playing its role and coming into use. In fact, we probably do way more than we know, and sometimes without ourselves noticing.
I try to keep this in mind when approaching people, it’s always good to be aware that a smile hides 1000 things. It makes you navigate conversation carefully with people and more open to people maybe saying a simple ‘no’ when asked ‘Are you okay?’
On the day I should have been writing this post I had been sitting in an Itsu cafe in South London. It was desolate and peaceful. And in my head as I savoured the peace I congratulated myself for finding my little haven in the bustle. Even though I only had half the day off [of work] I really didn’t know what to do. I had piled on my tabletop the various options I had considered; Bible study booklet, current reading book and notebook for creative writing. It’s quite weird having even just a relatively small amount of time on your hands if you’re used to being on the go non-stop. It’s almost like your mind has to (with a lot of effort) tell your body to chill so you properly relax; embrace the moment of stillness.
As I adjusted and became more comfortable I people watched. In the back of my mind, I imagined being in a small and chic Parisian cafe watching busy folk curry across pavements to the sound of sipping coffee.
It was quiet in the shop but a customer sitting by the door inspired this: