A story about smiles and self-determination.
It’s ice cream truck season. Lately, that familiar twinkling tune — you know the one — trills almost nonstop through the streets of Brooklyn, doling out lickable, lopsided renditions of Spongebob and crumbly cones blanketed with chocolate and nuts. I wonder whether the drivers despise that song they have to sit inside all day long; whether they tear through packages of Q-tips before bed at night, grimacing, trying desperately to wipe the cheery melody from their ears, to no avail. (It’s a sticky one, as addictively saccharine as the frozen treats.) Or, maybe, they ride their vans like kings in chariots, proud to be beloved by every giddy kid given a dollar for a popsicle. Maybe that ditty is their anthem. Maybe they hum it, smiling, while they get dressed every morning, and whistle it while they wind up and down the same repeated roads. Maybe they feel lucky that their jobs make them drivers of joy. … At my yoga studio, the sequence of every class is different, but each one includes a chair pose (or three). The posture looks the way it sounds: you raise your arms up by your ears and squat as if sitting back in an invisible chair. And then you stay there, until the teacher says it’s done. For a lot of people, it’s an unsavory exercise. It’s awkward and difficult and uncomfortable, and you just have to dwell in it while your thighs slowly quiver and melt. But it’s my favorite. I like an odd challenge, because I like practicing maintaining gentleness under strenuous circumstances. Recently, I’ve built a new habit: smiling in chair pose. I let the corners of my mouth lift, and I feel the crinkle coming up around my eyes. I’ve done it enough days and weeks in a row that it’s become a reflex. I smile instinctively as I bend down into my air chair, and I feel wonderful — because smiling does that to a person — and I think about the symbolism. We’re taught that difficulty breeds discomfort, and that discomfort is a precursor to dismay — but it doesn’t have to be that way. Difficulty and discomfort can be joyful things, if we savor the unsavory stuff as a delightful dare, as a temporary test of strength, as evidence of engagement with the full spectrum of human experience. I’m perpetually drawing connections between my motions on…
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