From the Hills: The Return of the Smile


Husband and I spent the afternoon in a friend’s backyard marrying her son and his fiance. If you ever wondered if God has an ideal helpmate for each of us, the overwhelming presence of smiles proves it. Yet, throughout the ceremony I was painfully aware that only a few months ago everyone would have been masked. We couldn’t have seen the bottom halves of each other’s faces. What a loss that would have been.

Here’s a little about why this couple is extraordinary.

The groom had a closed head injury when he was only 5. Against the medical odds, he recovered his speech, walking and the ability to care for himself. He is permanently disabled and has slight cognitive loss, however, his ability to fall in love with someone special isn’t one of them. 

The bride came into this union with her own disabilities, but medications and ongoing support have not impaired her ability to love either. Together they display a purity of spirit that I wish more people displayed. 

I recently read an article that said the smile is the most easily recognized facial expression in human interactions. It’s also the easiest to make. Other facial expressions denoting emotion — such as fear, anger or distress — require from four to 43 muscles. A smile only needs a few to lift each corner of the mouth. 

Smiling comes easily to humans. The required facial muscles are already present in the womb, ready for deployment to anxious parents. A baby’s first smile is announced with joy.  

It hasn’t always been so popular. In the back of my great-great-grandmother’s Bible there are family pictures from the mid-1800s. No one smiled. 

There was, in fact, a code of conduct that suggested polite people were to control all their bodily orifices in public. Mouths were to be kept closed when eating. Spitting was taboo. Noses should only be picked in private. Ears were not to be probed in public. Eyes should not stare. And — as if it needed to be said — there should be no passing of intestinal gas around others. 

In my grandmother’s presence, all of those were actively enforced. I can still hear my mother’s voice, “Get your fingers out of your ears. Don’t talk with your mouth full. That noise and smell are not funny.” 

Smiling has changed. Photography and iPhones confirm the preferred individual expression of social identity is the smile. Technology worked to erode the cultural barriers that were present when pictures were taken for our family Bible. 

One in every five of the more than 500 million Twitter messages sent each day contains an emoji. The one used most often is the “smile with tears of joy.” 

In 2019, the smile experienced a severe jolt: the appearance of COVID-19. Suddenly our smiles retreated behind surgical masks. Some of our joy did too.

The perceptive among us quickly figured out that a genuine and sincere smile could also be detected by the crinkling of muscles around the eyes. Unfortunately, the more subtle signs of our happiness were difficult to detect, such as budding friendships, ironic humor, an early flirtation, and yes, even the not-to-be-mentioned-or-commented-on-occasional-pop of intestinal gas.

Fortunately, the receding pandemic has given us all something to smile about again. Things have changed for the better with the availability of vaccinations, the ability to self-test at home, and the fact that COVID variants have resulted in partial “herd immunity.” The pandemic has lost some of its threat. 

One of the activities that returned to the delight of many is weddings. The one Husband did this afternoon left everyone smiling.


Sylvia Peterson is former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and the author of “The Red Door: Where Hurt and Holiness Collide,” which can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at


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