I recall rushing from the library one morning in my early childhood to impress Sister Rosanna with what I had learned.

“Did you know,” I whispered, “that it takes six facial muscles to make a frown?”

She paused. “How many to smile?” she asked.

I had to run back down to the library to check again and report back to her that a smile required at least 10.

She smiled, took a breath, and said, “That was exhausting.”

J.P. Devine in his younger years. Photo courtesy of J.P. Devine

A true story. I remember every word that beautiful nun taught me, even today when faced with negative numbers from all sides, and it’s hard to find a smile behind the masks.

Yesterday, I stood in Waterville’s Walgreens pharmacy, next to two Albion folks waiting, as I was, to get their booster shot. Both wore masks, but their eyes smiled.

A smile has many faces, not all happy ones.

When Eve took the first bite of the snake’s apple, we saw one.

Adam was stunned, as he watched the apple juice drip down Eve’s chin.

“What is that?”

“It’s called apple; it’s really good,” she said with a big smile, as she offered it to him.

“The snake told me it’s organic. Wanna bite?”

“Couldn’t hurt.”

That’s on page 8 in the Bible, under famous last words.

Now didn’t that make you smile?

We’ve been told that smiling alone activates feel-good chemicals in our brains.

“Smiling and laughing boost serotonin and endorphins in our brains,” they say, “and also reduces the stress hormone, cortisol.”

I can hear the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards now.

“Cortisol? No kidding? Is that what it was? Gimme some.”

The ’60s was the Technicolor decade of smiles. That was when Harvey Ball, in 1963, created the yellow smiley icon that became a button, and then an emoji.

It was different here in Maine than where I was, deep in the business of “show.”

From Woodstock to Sunset Strip, from San Francisco to Portland, Maine, America’s youth all smiled through the “Summer of Love.” I smiled all the time. I was working.

The Mamas & the Papas smiled, The Beatles, The Stones, Pink Floyd and The Byrds smiled their way to fame, even on the way down.

I’m here today in Walgreen’s trying to keep “social distance” from a growing line of grim faces around me.

It’s Sunday morning, but this is a new kind of communion.

Smiles? I can’t be sure about the ones wearing masks.

They could be smiling, or biting their lips.

Ten muscles. Use ’em or lose ’em.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 

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