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Musing for Meaning

How a Smile Could Save a Life

How a Smile Could Save a Life

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I could tell that they had no idea who I was. I tried to remind them about the Shabbat meals I had eaten at their house so many years ago. But to no avail. They really just didn’t remember me.

I wasn’t insulted. I often bump into people I met years ago, without being able to place them or recollect how we knew each other. But in this particular case it was funny, because not only did I remember this family in great detail; they were actually responsible, to a great degree, for my life today.

You see, about 18 years ago, one of their daughters was having her bat mitzvah. For some reason, the parents asked if I would come and speak to her group of friends. In doing so, I realized how much I loved public speaking, and began thinking that it was something I wanted to do with my life. At the time, the only public speaking I had done was teaching 12th grade high school, and that was certainly not the kind of reinforcement I needed to choose it as a career.

They were responsible, to a great degree, for my life todayBut showing up at that bat mitzvah, speaking to those girls and having them laugh with me, and then tell me that I inspired them . . . that was something that changed my life.

If only we could know the things we said or did that might have altered someone’s life for the better. If only we could know when we were the right person at the right time who said the right thing. So often, we go through our days thinking we accomplished nothing, having no clue that the person we complimented or smiled at might have needed that smile more than we could ever imagine.

The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, taught that we come into this world for our entire lifetime just to do a favor for another. There is even a cute little ditty that the kids sing with this message. Just one favor. Really? A whole lifetime, and that could be the sum total of it all? And yet, maybe that one favor changed a life? Inspired a life? Saved a life?

At a mental health awareness event a few years ago, I heard a man describe his suicide attempt, in which he jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. Few who have made that 220-foot jump have lived to tell their stories. Actually, only 2 percent of those who jump survive. But this man was one of the fortunate ones.

The second his feet left the bridge, he deeply regretted his decisionHe spoke to us about the power of depression, about the intense loneliness one can feel. The night he made the decision to die, he rode a public city bus to the bridge. He was the last one off the bus at the last stop. As he exited, he looked at the bus driver, desperate for a kind word. But the bus driver never even bothered looking at him.

This young man then made a promise to himself that if anyone smiled at him or asked how he was doing, it would prove to him that his life was worthwhile, and he wouldn’t jump. But no one did. At one point a couple even asked him to take their picture, but, consumed with their own lives, they didn’t pick up on the fact that minutes later their picture-taker would be attempting to take his own life.

Feeling that no one in the world cared about him, and that he had nothing to live for, the man climbed onto the railing of the bridge and jumped. The second his feet left the bridge, he deeply regretted his decision. “I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die,” he prayed the entire way down. Miraculously, he didn’t. He broke just about every bone in his body, but he lived. Until the rescuers reached him, sea lions swam under his broken body, keeping his head above water.

His story is amazing. But even more extraordinary than his personal survival is the promise he made to himself before he jumped. One smile could have saved his life. We could have been that one person on the bridge. Or that person on the bus with him. We could have offered a smile, or a “have a good night.” And had we offered that smile, we would have gone on our way, having no idea what that small act accomplished. That could have been the favor that the Baal Shem Tov was speaking about.

When I met this family again after so many years, it was clear that the impact they had made on me was much greater than the impact I had made on them. And that was perfectly fine. I didn’t need them to remember me. I just needed them to know how they influenced my life. By giving me the opportunity to speak, they introduced me to something I love, something I have been doing professionally from that point onward. Ironically, I reconnected to this family at a Passover program where my husband and I were the keynote speakers!

Everything we do, the big things as well as the seemingly not so big, can have an impactI felt so blessed that I was able to see this family again, that I was able to thank them for what they had given me, and to let them see that they had made a huge difference in the life of someone they didn’t even remember. Having that experience reminded me that everything we do, the big things as well as the seemingly not so big, can have an impact, sometimes even a lifesaving one. So the next time we walk down the street minding our own business, let’s take that second to look up and smile at a stranger passing by. Maybe, just maybe, that is what he is living for.


Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a nonprofit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Anonymous brisbane, Australia August 22, 2012

Beauty Salons Brisbane Your blog is very important for all visitors. I think every user should come on that site. They can get much useful information from it. Reply

Chana Sara Newfield Brooklyn, NY May 22, 2012

regards from Brooklyn Sara Esther,
It was great to reconnect with you after all these years! We enjoyed meeting your beautiful family and hearing your wonderful lectures. May you continue to inspire others with your unique insights and vast experiences. Reply

rachel gan yoshiya, israel May 15, 2012

Thanks! Thank you, Sara Crispe, for your encouraging story.That's a beautiful way to understand our task in the world. Reply

Anonymous May 15, 2012

Way to go!! Reply

Pauline Norcross Nawroth Tampa, Florida May 10, 2012

Smile plus How I kept my cool was to say "Keep a smile on your face and your big mouth shut!"
It is not a mother-in-law way to speak, but it filled the times and place when it was needed. Thank you for speaking as I think and try to do all of the time. Reply

Jocelyn Ruth Krieger Boca raton, Fl May 10, 2012

EGO ECOLOGY REASONS TO SMILE: 1.It can change inner depressed feelings 2.Beautify the world around you. like sunshine on a gloomy day 3. Smiles are contageous.. Just like laughter. 4. It infuriates people. They want to know what you're up to! Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma May 9, 2012

Impact The pact we should all make with G_d is visible in this beautiful piece of writing. I too read about this man, and it seemed what happened was a teaching lesson for us all, and for him, about the power of love. He survived due to a miralce, and it could be, and I say it WAS all G_d.

The word smile contains mile, and smiles do travel, we know this. Smiles like laughter are contagious. They are sunny, they bring in the light. To recognize anyone, with a smile, with something positive, is to bring warmth jot just to their day, but to ours. We all should grin, but we don't need to bear it all, alone. To shoulder this, to lighten the load, with a smile, really makes a difference that is incalculable, and you may never know, the extent. A smile, a good word, like a pebble throuwn into water, does have its reverberant qualities. Reply

John Nocera Calhoun, LA May 9, 2012

Outstanding and profound Makes us all think a bit more how we treat others. We can all do better.

Thanks for helping us see more clearly. Reply

Sara Bedein Efrat, Israel May 9, 2012

The small gestures that count I was sitting next to my mother's bedside. She was unconscious - eyes tightly shut. She had suffered a massive stroke. I looked around in desperation at the other patients and from their condition I realized that things can only get worse. The tears rolled down my cheeks uncontrolled and I squeezed my mother's hand hard. I was frightened and an overwhelming sadness of the inevitability of losing my mother threatened to suffocate me.
I sensed someone standing over me and looked up. It was a Chossid. I didn't know whether he had been visiting someone or just passing by. In the kindest voice imaginable he said to me: "Mama"? I nodded wordlessly, tears streaming down my face. With a most compassionate look he wished her a refuah shleima and I can't explain why but the way he said was as if I was embraced in warmth.
After he left I contemplated how only a few words uttered could make such a difference and made up my mind to take every opportunity to say something kind to people around me. Reply

Dan N. Montevideo, R.O.U. May 9, 2012

Smiles , Situations in life and its secrets Good article An article. A smile or a good pair of words joining the smile could have important results in normal life.
But in the Fake Buzz times, the sake for this seems to be a little confused or misunderstood at least
Also to remember the name of a person and saying it ,when they see ,in an inspired way may help the soul of both persons.
The person in the story seemed to be devaluated in his spiritual or soul level,but wanted to live at the end time.when jumping the bridge.Because the spirit or the soul never gets sick at all.What gets sikck is the phisical body or level or the psichological level..The spiritual level is above all the others and that was what reminded him not to damage his life at the end,Spiritual level is in conexion with G-d ,like franklian's understand this(followers of Dr.Viktor Frankl 's thinking about search of meaning in life)
Its good to read articles with a warm and inspired content I would like to complement it with this interpretation. Reply

olga Sanchez orlando, fl May 9, 2012

"love your neighbor as yourself" leviticus 19:17 Some times we get so busy and so distract in our daily life that we forget that even the smallest act of kindness has the power of change ones life.
So, stop the rush for a second and smile to others :), remember: Rabbi Akiva cited Leviticus 19:17 "love your neighbor as yourself" as summarizing the essence of the whole Torah
Toda Sara Esther :)

Reply

Shulamit Melbourne, Australia May 8, 2012

Thank you! What a lovely article,Sarah Esther! I haven't forgotten your inspiring talks at the Neshei Convention in Australia last year. Reply

Zs May 7, 2012

I thought I was the only one Who gets a high from public speaking. Most people I know would do anything but speak publicly! Reply

Susan Fayetteville, NC May 7, 2012

Timely and universal This makes me think of that classic movie, It's a Wonderful Life, whose hero, George Bailey (who himself is feeling low enough to end it all) is shown by an angel how much his ordinary good deeds over his life made a positive difference to so many people. Thanks for showing us the simple ways in which each of us has the potential to live a genuinely wonderful life. Reply

Elisabeth Stewart Dallas, Texas May 7, 2012

Smile This is a rich way to begin the day I thank you Reply

Every situation we find ourselves in is a lesson waiting to be learned. That is what this blog is about. From the people I meet, the places I go and the experiences I have, stories emerge, each teaching me something that I hope you will find useful for your life as well.
Sara Esther CrispeSara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the co-director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of TheJewishWoman.org, and wrote the popular weekly blog Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.