So I was minding my own business in church yesterday, waiting for the mass to start when this family of three came inside and sat in the pew in front of us. At first, they seemed like your regular family – mom, dad and teenage daughter. I even thought there were more of them because I saw the young girl, with full blunt bangs, carrying stuffed toys in her arms. Before I had time to start staring at the family in front of me, mass started. While I was singing the entrance song, the young girl caught my attention once again. She,too, was singing, but it wasn’t the Catholic way – stoic, bored looking, and almost unhappy. She looked like a Disney princess singing in the forest. By the looks of it, she was singing and trying to get her father’s attention – like she wanted to show him that she was singing. She kept tapping his shoulder while singing and kept singing while looking at him. And the other thing I noticed, her voice was unusually high – like Disney princess high. Yes, I was starting to think that a real life version of Enchanted was happening in front of me.
And so the first two readings passed, and the Gospel, and even the Homily…. and all the while, I kept looking at the girl trying to decipher what made her odd. She looked extremely normal. Except for the armful of stuffed toys that she never once let go of, the cartoon-like pitched voice and that overall Disney princess impact she got on.
It was during the Prayers of the Faithful, when everybody was standing up that the odd girl turned around, looked me straight in the eye and gave me a full-on friendly smile. To say that I was shell-shocked was an understatement. I was so surprised at her gesture that I just stared at her. With a blank face. I sort of realized that I was staring when my mom and my brother started snickering beside me. They started nudging me saying that the girl was smiling at me and I wasn’t smiling back. The girl turned around. I think she looked puzzled that I wasn’t reacting.
For some reason, the girl turned around once more and flashed me a smile. This time, I smiled back. With that awkward and shy, I-don’t-know-you-but-since-you’ve-smiled-at-me-twice-now-I’ll-smile-back. Note that my mom and my brother were still snickering in the background. And then she mouthed something to me that I didn’t understand. I’ll never know what it is. But I’d like to think that it was something good.
When she turned her back, I wanted to cry. Part of me was jealous that she could just turn around and smile at a stranger like she has been her friend for some time. Part of me felt heartbroken for being so mean to the girl who moved like a Disney princess. Part of me wanted to ditch mass and drag the odd girl with me so we could have lunch and spend the day like we’ve been friends for years. And there was this small and incredibly mean part of me that pitied the parents for having to raise an oddball of a daughter.
But then, life wouldn’t be fun without the oddballs that make you smile. I’m an oddball myself and my friends and family make a habit of laughing at my unintentional antics. I think God was gracious enough to let me interact with this young girl in that hour. It reminds me how much a smile can affect you – in an extremely comforting and heart-warming way. Even now, as I write this, the entire event still squeezes my heart.
I hope one day, I’d be the next oddball to make a stranger’s heart squeeze from a smile.