We All Have A Reason To Smile

Derek Personal Stuff 56 Comments

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One random Saturday, when I was a mere twelve years old, my parents, along with my sister and I, went to visit some family members who lived nearby. We actually visited these relatives somewhat often during my youth and on this occasion, our visit began as such visits normally did. We arrived, ate lunch and sat by the pool.

Eventually, after a couple of hours in the hot sun, and after going for a quick swim and diving from the diving board a few times, I went back inside the house and sat down to watch some television.

This really was just another ordinary visit up until that point.

But a few minutes after settling into the comfortable living room sofa and flicking on the tv, everything changed when my 18-year old cousin, Lauren, asked me to follow her into the kitchen. I immediately followed her until she stopped in the far corner, right next to the refrigerator, where, without a word, she removed the winter hat that she always wore on her head. And then, as I stared in shock at the 50 or so large metal staples that ran from one end of her scalp to the other, all helping keep a long, freshly made incision from opening up, Lauren just looked at me and smiled.

“It’s okay,” she said. “I just wanted to show you in case you were wondering why I always wear this hat.”

Ever since I had been able to understand anything, I had understood that Lauren was sick. But as a young child, it was impossible for me to fully realize what such an illness actually meant. And so, despite my parents telling me over and over again that Lauren had had another surgery to remove tumors from her brain, I always assumed that she would be fine in the end.

That is, until that very moment in the kitchen. Now I suddenly understood that Lauren was battling much more than a simple nuisance, such as a cold or the flu, and that her battle was more difficult than I could ever imagine. And with this realization came the discovery that life just might not be as easy as I had so naively believed. Requiring brain surgery and then having industrial-sized staples placed into one’s head was not something I had ever considered as a real possibility in life.

But now that I had seen it with my own eyes, it became apparent that such a terrible disease, along with countless other illnesses, accidents and life-altering obstacles, could surprise anyone, at any time. This was the day I learned that we are merely human beings, not super humans.

After I left the kitchen and returned to the living room, and as I still tried to process the influx of new thoughts, I sat back down on the sofa and turned on the television once again. However, I of course couldn’t focus on the television at all, and instead chose to observe Lauren as she moved around the house.

It didn’t take long for my observations to have a powerful effect on me, more powerful even, than the moment Lauren had removed her winter hat. Despite the staples in her scalp, despite her long battle with brain cancer and the never-ending surgeries, I’m not sure I had ever seen someone smile as much as she did. Despite the semi-frequent stumbles, when the tumors would interfere for a brief moment with the messages sent from her brain to other parts of her body, despite knowing that her life was going to be cut way too short, she continued to smile.

Observing Lauren that day changed me completely. First, I realized that, as a 12 year old boy, I knew nothing about the realities of life. But what stuck with me the most was without a doubt that smile. I realized that being able to walk around every day with such a smile and with such appreciation for what one has in life should be the goal of every single person. If Lauren could find the positive even in her own, impossibly difficult situation, I felt that I owed it to her and myself to make sure that I too would be smiling so brightly no matter where my life took me.

So, fast forward to today. I’m definitely a happy guy but I certainly, like most people, don’t have a permanent smile attached to my face. However, I must say that every day that I find myself interacting with new people, visiting and learning about new places and cultures around the world, my smile is as present and bright as Lauren’s.

That is why I’m now starting to realize that what drives me to constantly wander this planet is not actually my fear of living a life that is full of regrets, but my desire to achieve a goal I set for myself so many years ago, on that random Saturday afternoon, instead.

Lauren passed away at the age of 19, exactly twenty-one years ago this month. In honor of her, I encourage you to take a moment to remember that life is always worth smiling about, no matter how difficult or frustrating our situation may seem to be.

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Comments 56

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  2. mush

    I’m searching for an answer why person smile and by reading your story i felt sorry about the idea that she passed away Condolence, back then the realization seized me that what all you want us to learned is that Lauren posses the most powerful gesture in this world which is smiling. Truly my question somehow answered already thanks.. TC!

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  4. Rebecca

    What a lovely, touching piece Earl. I’m so sorry your cousin passed away, but how nice to have had her – and her smile – in your life.

    1. Earl

      I agree Rebecca….it is much more important to dwell on the time we do share with other people than to dwell on the time that we unfortunately don’t get to share. I definitely prefer this approach to death as it helps us to focus and remember the positive aspects of someone’s life.

  5. Steven Hronek

    Something I started years ago is a “what makes me smile” list. It began with a couple of general things, but over the years it has grown to be a catalog of all the things and memories I’ve loved in my life. Whenever I feel like the world has something against me, I’ve got a tool for remembering just how much it has already given.

    1. Earl

      Hey Steven – That certainly is a great idea and I think such a list would benefit all of us. It’s like an instant cure for frustration and a perfect way to change one’s mood just by flipping through it’s pages. Thanks so much for sharing!

  6. Karen Ho Fatt

    May she rest in peace. We all have to go someday hopefully without pain and with our family by our sides. My husband hears stories like this often as it is his business. His client’s son(24)recently had 4 brain surgeries, hopefully the young man will survive.

  7. Untemplater

    Wow what an amazing story. And to die so young… There are so many people out there with terminal illnesses and diseases that fight on and have such a strong, positive will to live. It’s so easy for the rest of us take so much for granted and it’s stories like this that help us to pause, count our blessings, and realize that whatever stress we may have is nothing compared to what so many others are coping with. We should take more time to be happy with what we have, spend more time with family and loved ones, help others, and be more positive all around. Thanks for sharing this. -Sydney

    1. Earl

      @Untemplater: I definitely feel its important to do exactly what you mentioned…to pause every now and then before we completely forget how lucky we are. Even a short moment of reflection every now and then can make a huge difference in how we approach our lives!

  8. Shane

    While I am a fan of reducing stress by throwing my toys out of the pram in a John Cleese whipping a car styley every once in a while, we all do well to appreciate the reasons we have to smile. Most of us reading this will have our health and by random chance were born into a country that provides both a passport and an economy that can render realistic access to our shared passion. An awful lot of the world’s population can’t say the same.

    1. Earl

      Hey Shane – Haha…well, that method certainly works from time to time! And you’re right that, as travelers, we need to remember that most of the world is unable to just pack their backpack and take off to another country for a while. We are incredibly lucky to be able to do this, even if it requires a lot of hard work on our part.

  9. Joe Edward

    Your message is loud and clear with me. I hear people all around me “complain” about the car they drive, house they live in or the bad meal that they had at a restaurant. Like you I lived in Asia and I have see poverty with my family by my side. Every time one of my children complain about something I remind them of the children we saw in the Philippines or Vietnam with nothing.

    Your story of your cousin is a great reminder to us all.

    1. Earl

      Thanks so much for the comment Joe and for sharing your thoughts. Traveling definitely has the effect of forcing us to realize how much we have to be thankful for and it’s great to hear you’re instilling that in your own children as well. We should never lose sight of how fortunate we are or else we run that risk of complaining about things that are really quite insignificant!

  10. mmz

    Thank you so much for finding a way to put exactly how I felt about Lauren into words. And at a time when I needed the reminder so much! I think of her so often, but I usually just think about how much I miss her, and I rarely remember how much she smiled, and how much she thought of other people even in the midst of her own pain. This is such a wonderful way to be reminded.

    1. Earl

      Hey Mara – Lauren’s attitude towards life surely was incredible and something that I try to remember often whenever I’m dealing with my own frustrations. And whenever I think of Lauren, it is her smile that immediately pops into my head. I have trouble picturing her without a smile and that makes the impression she left even stronger! I hope all is well with you and the family 🙂

  11. Sam

    Hey Earl,

    Was just sifting around cyberspace checking up on my buddies…. I checked out your ‘latest video’ of that bar in Iraq you were telling me about. You described it PERFECTLY. I was having deja vu watching it even though I knew I had never been there. It was exactly as I had imagined it.

    Big love to you from Melbourne… from me and Helen and the rest,
    Sam

  12. Justin | Mazzastick

    Earl,

    It’s important to not take anything in life for granted especially our physical health. Most people are blessed with a healthy body yet find other menial things to complain about. Great Story.

    1. Earl

      Thanks for the comment Justin and I agree completely with what you said. It’s amazing how we often think of ourselves as invincible (even as adults) until we are faced with our first medical issue. And in the meantime, we get all worked up over insignificant stuff instead of appreciating what we do have!

  13. Theodora

    A lovely, moving piece of writing. Thank you, Earl. We don’t know how lucky we are to be alive until we know someone who ceases to be so before their time.

    1. Earl

      Hey Theodora – It’s a shame that we often remember to appreciate life only after someone passes away. We should all feel lucky all of the time, just to be able to meet with and interact with so many different people during our time here.

  14. Natalie

    It amazes me when I see the courage that children have when they are seriously ill. They still manage to smile and maintain a positive attitude. Sometimes adults do need to look back on people throughout their life as we will always find there is someone that encourages and pushes us, even when they have passed away.

    1. Earl

      Hey Natalie – Lessons can definitely be learned from everyone we come across in life, especially those that have faced a difficult challenge. And as you mentioned, it is important not to forget those who have passed away as the lessons they can teach are equally invaluable.

  15. Henway

    Thanks for the reminder – we all need to be reminded that most things in life are trivial and what really matters is the impact we leave on people after we’re gone.

    1. Earl

      Hey Henway – That’s a great way to put it and something to keep in mind whenever we find ourselves upset with some small issue we face!

  16. Ozzy

    Wow…the sight of the staples would have stunned me at that age (I’m incredibly jaded these days – good and bad). And what you took from it is by far the single best thing possible. The way she lived is a great reminder that if she can see the bright side of life then anyone can.

    1. Earl

      Hey Ozzy – Absolutely. There simply is no excuse for me to complain about my situation or daily frustrations. That almost seems like an insult to those who have it much worse.

  17. Marina

    I can relate to your story…I too have experienced losing loved ones to tragedy and illness. I’ve learned to approach life-changing experiences as opportunities to reflect internally, change, develop, transform. You’re never ever the same, life perspective becomes more focused on what’s really important in life.

    1. Earl

      Thanks for your comment Marina and I agree with you completely. It is important to use life-changing experiences to improve our own lives instead of looking at them as purely negative situations. This is an ideal way to ensure that we never forget what truly matters during our time on this planet!

  18. karen ho fatt

    May she rest in peace. We all have to go some day hopefully without pain and with our family by our sides. Mu husband hears stories like this often as it is his business. His client’s son(24)recently had 4 brain surgeries, hopefully the young man wil survive.

  19. John Bardos -JetSetCitizen

    Life is damn short! I think most of us focus so much of our lives on inconsequential things. It is good to regularly step back and ask, “how much will this matter ten or twenty years from now?”

    My guess is not much. A smile and appreciation for what we have now is a great life philosophy!

    1. Earl

      Hey John – Not much is right. I’ve always found it fascinating how much importance we place on things that are really quite insignificant. We’d be much better off using that energy to appreciate what we have and living a more positive and rewarding life as a result!

  20. Money Beagle

    Great story and thanks so much for sharing. It’s people like that, who stay positive in light of so many things that could drag them down, who are inspirations. She lives on through the spirit she installed in you that day.

    1. Earl

      @Money Beagle – You are absolutely correct. Sometimes it’s almost impossible to understand how some people can continue to appreciate everything in life despite the struggles they face but the fact that many are able to maintain their optimism leaves the rest of us with no excuse for not doing the same!

      Thank you for your comment.

  21. Dave

    Heartfelt post, my friend, and a fantastic reminder to us all. If Lauren could still smile in the face of such adversity, then surely it’s not too much to ask that we all do the same?

    1. Earl

      Hey Dave – It’s not too much to ask at all I’d say. Now I just need to remember this lesson whenever I find myself losing my smile! I hope all is well in Melbourne….

    1. Earl

      Hey Rob – I think we’re all guilty. I definitely am as well and as a result, I’m quite glad this idea for a post came into my head the other day. I needed a reminder just as much as anyone!

      Thanks for commenting Rob.

  22. Laura

    Great post. Life is too short not to smile. And it’s amazing how much a smile has an effect on other people’s attitudes. I have a friend who taught me a similar lesson, and I always thought, if she can have a smile on her face after all that she’s been through, why can’t I. Thanks for this thought-provoking message.

    1. Earl

      Hey Laura – A smile is powerful indeed! One smile can immediately alleviate any frustrations we may be experiencing at any given time. And there’s no reason not to be smiling often when, like you observed as well with your friend, other’s manage to do so despite the greater challenges they face.

  23. Wifey of a Roadie

    I have tears in my eyes. Thanks for reminding me how precious time is and how we shouldn’t waste it on worrying about the small things when others are dealing with things that are so much bigger!

    1. Earl

      @Wifey of a Roadie: Thanks so much for your comment and you said it perfectly. Whatever our problems may be, there are others who are dealing with much worse. We should never let the small things take control!

    1. Earl

      Hey Gillian – That’s good to hear and choosing optimism and joy always seems like the best option to me as well. Just taking q quick moment to remember how fortunate we are can make a huge difference to each day.

  24. Christine

    Wow, your story about Lauren is touching and so very inspiring. Thank you so much for sharing it with us. It’s a good reminder that we are lucky beyond belief. Also, that we have only one shot in life and that we had better make it a good one. Thanks again!!

    1. Earl

      Hey Christine – You’re right, one shot is all we have. And that’s something we should remind ourselves every morning when we wake up!

      Thanks so much for commenting.

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