I met "smiling" Jeff some years ago at a decidedly tense time in my life, yet the impression I took away of this stranger has never left me.
Jeff is a pacemaker technician. He works with cardiologists to implant the small sensors that help patients' hearts stay in a healthy rhythm.
It was the evening before I was to receive my own pacemaker, and I was attending a meeting of writers in an attempt to keep my mind off the next day's procedure. To say I was a bit anxious would be quite an understatement.
In fact, I was filled with dread at what lay ahead. Would this little device help keep me from having those frightening episodes of a run-away heart beat? And, if the pacer kicked in, how would it feel?
I had an endless list of questions and an equally extensive catalog of fears, both real and imagined.
As luck would have it, Jeff, the pacemaker tech, just happened to be at the meeting, too.
Some would call such a turn of events a coincidence. But you and I and God all know that such things happen, not by chance at all, but by divine plan.
So it was that I met Jeff just when I needed his kind of encouragement.
Jeff was a big man, strong and stocky, a kind of blonde teddy bear of a guy. But the thing that stood out the moment we were introduced was Jeff's smile.
Some folks smile with their mouth alone, never letting the smile touch their eyes. Some simply lift their eyebrows to signify a pleasant expression. But not Jeff. This is a man who smiles with his whole face, his whole body, his whole being.
Just looking at this guy in the midst of that all-inclusive smile makes those around him beam in return.
As we talked about my upcoming operation, smiling Jeff calmed all my fears and lay all my doubts to rest. How could a man with such a smile have anything but a positive effect on my life?
And, so it was that Jeff met me in the operating room the next morning, his surgical mask in place. But, even behind that mask, I could feel the radiation of his smile warming the room.
The procedure went off without a hitch and today my pacemaker still goes quietly about its work, problem free.
I've seen Jeff several times since that pivotal day and each time, he shares that "light-up-the-room" smile.
I recently read about a doctor, Dr. Eric Finzi, a dermatological surgeon, who has spent many years researching the effect peoples' expressions have on those around them.
As you can guess, he found that those who smile can inspire others nearby to mirror that positive look. And, by the same token, chronic frowners tend to spread that negative look to others too.
Since smiling is such a simple and effortless gift to share any time and anywhere, I've been trying to follow Jeff's lead and send out smiles on a steady basis.
In what often seems to be a worldwide atmosphere of gloom, it's time for all of us to do our part to brighten up our corner with infectious smiles. Of all the things we humans might pass on to one another, a smile is one "contagion" worth spreading.