This lockdown life: the meaning of smiles

I’m really interested in the lockdown experience that we’re all going through, in terms of how we’re processing it. My Nan – the woman who used to feed me toffees, arse jokes, and books as a bedtime treat (no, she did not have teeth), once wrote in my autograph book,

‘Tis easy enough to be pleasant,

when life flows along like a song,

but the man worth while is the one who will smile

when everything goes dead wrong.

She also gave me a little oil painting of violets in a jar, because violets are for remembrance. “Promise me you’ll remember me,” she said, as if she wasn’t part of me. I wear her ring; she had her initials removed and mine put on when I was twelve. She had cornflower blue eyes and the biggest smile. She still shapes me (I still eat toffees and swear like a trooper).


This is when I remember my Nan; her smile, huge and beaming with her perfect, plastic teeth and sparkly eyes, the feel of her as we ran for hugs, her little umph of joy. She lifts me, and I hear her, the one who will smile. It’s taken me many, many years to realise just how much a smile does not represent happiness; it might, of course, but just as often a smile means hope, resilience, kindness, sadness, hurt, warmth, or perhaps some intangible thing for which we don’t have a word.

Sometimes a smile is all we can give to the world; it’s our little beacon, not so much of hope, but of kindness, of a resistance to the awfulness, representing our willingness to carry on with this life in spite of everything. Being kind to people can bring huge relief from our own problems; maybe we smile in the hope that the smile itself will lead us to happier places. Maybe it works; we smile, reach out, and move on.

There should be a word for the smile that we give when everything has gone dead wrong.ย There should definitely be a name for that smile.



Images: woman / cloud

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