Last week I promised a story behind the story for “Smiles, Sunshine, and Bears.” Here we go.
Earlier this summer, I talked with someone about my friendships. Because of a promise I made to myself, my personality leans towards developing slow brew friendships. They take a long time to reach peak flavor, but once they do, they are enduring.
This person, who is one of those slow brew friends, replied. “For the longest time, I thought you were weird because you smile so much.”
I silently accepted what she said, thinking I thought smiling meant you like a person. From that point forward, I committed to listening with a more somber expression. Spoiler: I failed.
A couple of weeks later, I was in a zoom writing session when one of my friends mentioned she was on the other side of a struggle. To the other women, she said, “I don’t expect Merri to understand. She’s always happy.”
Again, I was taken aback. So over dinner, I mentioned it to my husband. I said something to the effect of feeling misunderstood for expressing things positively.
He replied, “Yeah, it can be a bit much.”
Three times. Three times, people expressed unease with my cheerful disposition. I took it as a sign. Perhaps my interpretation of cheerful translated to annoying in others.
So, I did what any normal, who wants to get along with other people, person would do. I tried to hide my smile. In the social distancing, don’t cover your face, time we are living in, I had a dilemma. Place my hand in front of my face to hide the being in your presence makes me happy smile or annoy the person who has brought me happiness. While other people were claiming masks were the bane of their existence, I thought I could smile and not be perceived as weird.
But my heart said something was wrong. Back before I became a recluse people sought me out when they were having a bad day. My superpower is helping them see we are bigger than our problems.
So I decided to write a story where a character’s feelings were hurt because she was too nice.
What happens next is not funny, but it is. I read the first part of the story, where Jimmy complained about Alana. I kid you not. With the indignity of a friend who would go out at two in the morning for a tub of ice cream, he asked, “Who said that about you?”
I demurely replied, “You.”
At first, he denied it. When I went into the woman’s explanation; The one where we describe in detail what the person was eating and how much coffee was in their cup when they said it, he believed the discussion took place. Then he said, “I mustn’t have been paying attention.” Since then, he’s been bringing home gifts of chocolate.
For the sake of time, let’s say this conversation repeated in a variety of ways, with the same ending as the story of Jimmy and Alana. Friendships were strengthened, and appreciation for unique personality traits was affirmed.
A key point, from both sides, was lost in the translation. What they meant to say was positivity can be just as overwhelming as a cranky toddler. For some strange reason, people thought I expected them to be more like me. Again my feelings were a little dented because I love people for who they are–not what they think they should be. I love people with salty personalities. I wish I could be that quick with the comebacks, to the person who is occasionally grumpy. I can take that sour mood and make them laugh about it. I also have enough love to sit quietly with the depressed person or give them space and greet them with open arms when they’re ready to interact.
What we all learned through this was friendships, like seasonings, are best when the strengths vary. We get this with food. Seriously, add a little sugar to some flour, with some baking soda and a whole mess of other stuff, and you have cookies or muffins or biscuits (now I’m hungry) The different ratios determine the flavor.
I’ll close here with the encouragement that wherever you are in the mood scale, you are appreciated. People may not say it in a way you need to hear, but you are. Your unique representation of your relationship with the world is what makes you special. For that, I thank you.
Until the next note,