Monday, July 11, 2011

Smiley People in Paris

I remember reading in a university psychology text (back in the late '90s) that the North American idealizations of happiness (i.e. happy all the time, everyone) were off the charts in relation to other culture's expectations of happiness. In fact, I remember the authors saying that if you were to walk around the streets of Paris with a big, wide grin on your face, they might think you were mentally challenged. The French are, after all, a very serious bunch.  :)

image from the Canuck Place website
For the first time in a long time, here at Canuck Place I feel like I'm the super haaaaapy(!) person who doesn't get it. The kids here are just so flippin' adorable, but the criteria they need to meet in order to be admitted is absolutely heart-breaking. The thing is, though, what we think is heartbreaking is our reality. It's not heartbreaking for them. It's reality! And their realities are so, so fundamentally different than your average person's.

Big smiles. Different realities. What's the connect?

Well, sometimes I think when you're exposed to the harsh realities of life – or when harsh realities are your life – your reality changes. You adapt. You grow. You get stronger. And your understanding of the full spectrum of life and of humanity increases.

The full spectrum. Not just the happy spectrum.

And I think that's what I'm observing here. There have been several kids I've tried striking up conversations with and they don't want to talk to me. I get that. I really do. Here's this 6'1" guy, walking around with two healthy feet and a healthy body, with a big toothy grin (to quote my father-in-law's wedding speech), trying to enthusiastically strike up a conversation. What do I know about what they know? Nothing! I wouldn't want to talk to me either. They're French and I'm this guy strolling the streets of Paris with this big grin on my face, only aware of one slice of the human spectrum.

And then there's all the healthy people I've observed since Gabrielle's birth, smiling away and fretting about how much work they have to do, or complaining about having to get up early for work, or how worried they are about their very healthy kid's dentist appointment, or all the Facebook updates about really normal and superficial things. Sometimes I cringe, and sometimes I chuckle: big smiles in the streets of Paris.

But when these kids laugh, they laugh. I mean, their smiles are so full of human spirit that it warms every heart in the room. It's not heartbreaking. It's genuine. It's refreshing. It comes from such a wise and mystical place – a place that no one else in the room can understand – that it can't be called anything other than special.

The big difference between these kids and Parisians is that these kids – each and every one of them – are heroes. Humans of all kinds celebrate and idolize heroes. Heroes are people we look up to, who can teach us how to be better and better. But I defy anyone to find a more heroic person than a child who knows they may not see it out of childhood and can still laugh and smile.

image from Canuck Place website

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