The backs of our cars have always been pretty much unadorned. No "My kid can beat your kid at chess" bumper stickers or little stick figure families complete with names and pets clinging to the back window of the minivan. The closest we've ever come to automobile messaging is our university alumni license plate holders.
So when the kids came home from an outing with Hubs and said something about a 'smiley face' on the back of the car, I didn't really think much about it. When I went out later and saw the quarter-sized yellow decal just above the rear windshield wiper, I figured it was cheerful and innocuous enough to leave for a little while.
Until a few days later when I went to get the sand toys out of the back of the car and I got a better look. It wasn't just a run of the mill smiley-face sticker; it's a Walmart smiley-face sticker.
Now, I'm not entirely anti-Walmart. But in the Walmart/Target war, I'm firmly in the Target camp. If I lived in one of those small towns without any other department or variety stores, I'd probably shop Walmart with the best of 'em, but I don't. I have lots of choices and I mostly choose other places first.
So I realized that I'd been driving around promoting a store that I rarely go to, let alone want to advertise personally. There was a message behind that little smiley face that isn't exactly what I thought I was putting out there.
That got me to thinking about how often there's something hidden behind our smiles. In casual passing an acquaintance asks, "How are you?" We smile and respond with the expected and socially acceptable, "Fine/good. How are you?" We all keep going, sometimes guilty of not really telling the truth, other times guilty of not really seeing the truth behind the smile.
It's a dilemma for me. I know I've been guilty of the former many times over the past year or so. There were plenty of days when things were neither "fine" nor "good," but I gave the requisite response anyway.
Maybe I wasn't really at liberty to give details. It's possible there wasn't a solid enough relationship to risk putting the whole story out there. In some cases I probably didn't believe the other person really wanted the truth of the matter.
And I've been just as guilty of seeing that flicker of "Things aren't really fine," in someone else's eyes, but I didn't stop them to hear the details.
One of the things that has always been important to me is to not be fake. I'm still not sure how to balance my desire to be 'real' with my need for self-preservation from trusting people with details that don't belong to them, but I think I want to try.
So, I'm challenging myself to go ahead and smile. But may it be a genuine heartfelt smile, even in the midst of trying times.
And I'm going to work on giving a genuine answer to a genuine question (I still might not stop and 'spill' when I don't know that the hearer really wants to hear it).
And I will try to take the extra step to ask the follow-up question when I encounter someone whose "fine/good" rings with hesitation.
Will you join me?