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The smile of a cynic

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By John Pawlak

When you’re a cynic like me (being a cynic, I view this as putting myself in the majority), it’s easy to discount the human race as an experiment in chemistry gone bad. Whether it’s gods playing dice with comets or military playing not-nice with big bombs, I figure the experiment will be over soon enough.
But every now and then (usually more then than now), something will make me sit back and think, “Maybe there’s some hope for us after all.”
Sometimes it’s a large scale event, such as the Boston Marathon bombing. The bombing itself could easily convince any cynic that the human race is a diseased animal. But it’s what happened after the bombing that merits the true test of what we can be.
Fifteen active-duty Massachusetts National Guardsmen had completed the 26 mile “hike” in full combat uniform (which included 40 pound backpacks) and were gathered at a medical tent when the bombs exploded.
Within seconds, these soldiers rushed towards the carnage to help rescue victims covered with burning debris.
Ran “towards” the danger! Fools may rush in where angels fear to tread, but heroes are not fools. They represent the best in mankind, which is all too often obscured by the thick veneer of civilization we deal with every day.
Sometimes, it’s something small, a simple random act of kindness. A young woman at the supermarket was frantically searching through her purse for a couple dollars. She was short on money and obviously very embarrassed. As she began to consider what item to put back, an older woman behind her took out two dollars and gave it to her.
I didn’t know the human mouth could produce a smile that wide. That simple gesture made that woman’s entire day. Two bucks, the cost of a cup of coffee.
Imagine if our government could spend a mere $600 million to make the entire nation happy for a day. (To put this in context, our country was spending $720 million each day just to cover the cost of the Iraq war).
And sometimes it’s something totally silly. I was watching a YouTube video titled “Where the Heck is Matt? 2012”, a dance video in which Matt Harding travels around the world and dances with people. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing out on one of the best arguments for maintaining the human race I’ve ever seen.
In a video less than five minutes long, Matt dances with people from 55 nations in 71 locations. As much fun as it might be to bomb each other, the people in this world seem to equally enjoy a love for music and dance.
Life can get pretty frustrating and it’s easy to get lost in a dismal forest of day to day existence and forget that you happen to like trees. It’s a healthy habit to learn to stop every now and then, close your eyes, and look inside yourself for that spark of enthusiasm for life you had as a child.
It’s there. You just have to dig through the noise sometimes to find it. But it’s there.
My wife was watching a video in which two German women sitting in a Berlin subway car start laughing. It was a social experiment to see if laughter is indeed contagious. And it would seem that it is, because within minutes, everyone is laughing. My wife was laughing too. It’s hard not to laugh when others are laughing.
No high paid comedians. No one slipping on a banana peel. Laughing simply because it feels good to laugh.
Sometimes it takes a team of heroes to make us smile. Sometimes the price of a cup of coffee is more than enough.
And maybe that’s the secret to what’s good about us humans. Whatever life deals us, if we can find a reason to laugh, we feel good. If not just for a moment.
Laugh and the world laughs with you? My students laugh a lot during my classes and I keep telling myself they’re having fun.
Or maybe they’re just laughing at me. Either way, it’s better than playing dice with comets and big bombs.