by Mary Coffey  AMMM        Ireland        10.06.2022
shafaq resizedA newborn baby is expected to reach certain key developmental milestones. One such milestone is that a baby should “smile with meaning” at six weeks. That means a smile that can focus, and it is a cause of great joy for those with whom the baby first engages with that meaningful smile.

Covid ushered in an era of masks and we have heard it said that we must make sure that our smiles reach our eyes. This was brought home to me at least twice in the early days of Covid when somebody, for example, held a door open for me and reacted somewhat angrily when I just sailed on through with no acknowledgement. No hint of my body language said “Thank you.“ My reaction was to say to myself: “But I smiled, didn’t I?” Then it dawned on me that maybe my smile was not reaching my eyes.

My much loved Auntie Mary died recently, having been in a nursing home for over two years. Covid was difficult for her. She didn’t understand why we had not been able to visit for so many months and then, when visiting became possible again, window visits caused great frustration. Later, when we had indoor face to face visits, the masks were a barrier to communication because she could not be persuaded to wear her hearing aids and she relied so much on lip-reading for communication. I’m wondering now if I could have relied more on my smile.

In October last year I welcomed Shafaq into my home. Shafaq is a lawyer and a human rights activist from Afghanistan and he belongs to the Hazara people. The Hazara have historically been persecuted and are subject to what is considered to be the longest genocide in history, dating back to the 1890s and ongoing to this day. They are different. Their Shia Muslim heritage is one factor that sets them apart, and they look different, more like the people of Mongolia. Their distinctive feature is their “almond” eyes.

After Shafaq arrived I included him, as far as possible, in whatever I was doing, and one day we headed to Waterford to visit my aunt. Shafaq went exploring the city while I was visiting. He came back just as we were returning from a wheelchair spin around the grounds. Auntie Mary was cold, getting a little bit fractious and anxious to get back to her room. I introduced Shafaq to her but I thought that she might not engage. We were wearing masks of course. Auntie Mary connected with Shafaq instantly and she said “I can see your smile in your lovely eyes.” Yes, those lovely Hazara eyes that have seen so much death and destruction and that have reflected so much sorrow. What a thing of beauty it was to see that smile connecting them in that fleeting moment.

“A simple smile. That’s the start of opening your heart and being compassionate to others” Dalai Lama