Note To Self: Always Flirt With Chinese Grandma At Bus Stop



There’s a small chip on my front tooth. I’ve had it fixed, but it’s so tiny, the repair doesn’t last. So, I smile with my chipped tooth and my eyes scrunched up and I see laugh lines with this haircut that showcases my whole wrinkly forehead.

And I don’t care. I like that my face tells a story. And I have a smile that I love to give away.

Some days I hold it out to faces that are drawn and sometimes I hold it out to faces in cafes and supermarkets and bus stops, like an offering.

There was the Monday morning when I stood in the back aisle of the Shoppers Drug Mart, picking up our 4L jug of milk when a sales assistant walked towards me. Her face seemed expressionless; stoic even. I looked at her and smiled. It was Monday morning and I figured everybody needs a bit of a pick-me-up on a Monday morning. On that particular day, my heart felt full to overflowing and so I could give some away. Enough good had taken up residence in me and had so filled me up that I could splash some kindness and goodness into the world.

I didn’t look away. My eyes stayed with her and when she realized I was smiling at her, it didn’t take long before the smile spread across her face. Her face lit up. Her smile flashed through her whole being, like a light had been turned on inside her. The transformation was so radical, I wanted to burst into tears at the beauty of this simple human connection.

It takes so little, I thought. A smile? That’s it. A smile.

I wanted to run out of the store and wave my arms because I felt like I had changed the world. Early on a Monday morning, even.

Then there was the Tuesday, the first day of school, when I dropped off all the kids at their new classrooms. I walked Shay, my eight-year-old son, over to his new Grade three class. He immediately sat down at a table with a friend. The two boys had their heads down, fully engaged in this moment of being old friends in a brand new year. A few new parents were standing around, waiting for announcements and introductions and I noticed a new girl with black curly hair. I remembered how we had moved to the school a few years earlier and how Gabi was the new girl in that same Grade 3 class with that same teacher. So I smiled at this little girl, wanting her to feel welcome. I put hope and love into my smile and prayed with my eyes for her to find her place in this new room with many faces.

I smiled at her serious little face and I didn’t have too much hope of her smiling back. But then, as my eyes held hers, suddenly a smile started spreading across her whole face. I watched it spread, like light rising inside of her and then she smiled from the bottom of her little shoes right through to her eyes.

It was like the sun came into the room.

It was like there was night and then suddenly she was alive and present and fully awake. And it was day.

A few days later, I saw her at a school barbecue and I said hello. I saw her again the next week, waiting with Shay for the school bell to ring and doors to open. This time, she looked at me and smiled … She smiled first. I didn’t even have to say hello. Her smile reached to me and there was a transaction and it filled my whole heart.

On some ordinary Mondays, sometimes I feel like the best Love I give is felt in these ordinary faces. The woman at the Shoppers. The little Third Grader in Shay’s class. The girl at Starbucks with the Husky puppy tied up at the front door.

Who knows if they even remember it or if they even feel it in the same big way that I do. I know it feeds me. I may be giving something of myself, but seeing a smile spread across someone’s face feeds me and nourishes me. I feel it ripple through me and fill me with warmth and, mostly, I remember these moments like I remember good meals.

There was one other day I also remember. I was waiting for the kids’ school bus in the afternoon, right where the public bus stops, too. When the city bus stopped, my eyes caught the face of a Chinese grandma. Her face was drawn. Completely blank. She stared in front of her and she might even have looked a little angry. But I love these grandmas. For when I lived in Taiwan, old ladies on street corners and bus stops and park benches laughed with me with their eyes and told me I was beautiful. They told me how they saw me. They told me, You are seen and you are beautiful.

And over time, I began to believe them. At a time when I’d left my old world and started from scratch, I needed those kind faces. I needed that filling. I needed to eat from the kindness of their gaze.

So, at a bus stop in the suburbs of Surrey, I smiled at the Chinese grandma. And I held my smile … I looked into her eyes so that she knew it wasn’t for anyone else but her. And then, oh, then … how she lit up. Her face became ablaze and she smiled right back at me. And have you ever felt that energy between two people? When smiles meet and hearts honor each other’s humanity?

That. It was that.

We connected and my heart was set on fire.

And I could jump up right then and shout, I LOVE HUMANITY!

Because I did.

It felt like being in love with the whole blinkin’ mass of humanity.

In these moments, I know we are not two people smiling at each other and beaming Love. We are humanity. We are part of the largest whole.

In these moments, I know we belong to each other. I know we are connected to each other. In these moments, I know the power of kindness.

It’s not all that philanthropic of me, to be honest. Truth is, many of these strangers have saved me.

Little grannies on park benches and at bus stops have fed me with their smiles and their enthusiastic nods, watching me walk to my work, pick up my groceries or shop on Chung Shiao East Road. I have learned that even the most stoic faces— turbaned grandpas shuffling up our street or grannies pushing strollers in the mall—mostly, if I lean in and connect and smile and hold it and give from my heart, they meet me there.

And I find such delight here.

Maybe it’s saying thank you for all the kindnesses I’ve received when I needed it most. Maybe it’s saying, I am glad you’re here too. Maybe it’s just saying, I see you. I am here, too. I honor you.

I love being part of a global family. I’m grateful that my world is big now. I have been rescued from a small and divided world and I have been planted in a city where the nations live side by side and we wait at bus stops and shop at the drug store together and our kids sit at the same tables in school. The way it should be. The way the Heavens sing, Glory.


Image credit: Tina Francis Mutungu