The Reach of a Smile
Dust floated up into the air from the tires of each passing green and yellow auto-rickshaw, creating a temporary orange haze in the road which did little to abate the intense heat beating down on us from above. The harsh afternoon light illuminated the entire open and unpaved road, heating up the red dirt, the white painted walls and the faded gate ahead of us. We ambled painfully slowly towards the entryway, each step sending a new torrent of sweat down my back. Behind the Neeme trees off to our right we could see the local primary school, a homey building filled with loud learning. Laughter shook us from our collective daydream and we looked up to see a group of three or four young schoolchildren hopping towards us, broad grins painted on their faces. An especially bold boy and girl, both wearing dusty, white, tattered uniforms stepped forward as the Niswarthians slowed to a stop.
“What is your name?” The boy asked in a high pitched voice with as thick of an Indian accent as can be found. He laughed sharply at the answer and moved on to the next recipient of his questioning. A the intrepid girl had also stepped forward into the chaotic mass of students to ask each Niswarthian the boy had not yet questioned the same request, all while flashing a toothy and happy smile across her face. I realized the original boy had reached me and was attempting to find my name as well.
“Cameron” I replied to his simple question, a statement which put a slightly nervous but very happy grin on his face as he repeated my name back “Cam-e-ron.” He stepped backwards and cackled loudly, a sound which his friends happily mirrored. The children were escorted away and we turned back towards to gate and restarted our walk slowly, striding toward the entrance and the beckon of the cool air conditioned room awaiting us merely meters away. The exit of the children seemed to bring back the intense white rays of the sun which had been absent as we conversed and laughed with these children of Ahmedabad.
Encountering some of the children local to the area of the Gandhi Ashram and seeing their obvious joy in meeting and learning our names had a profound effect on me: I not only felt reciprocal joy but comprehended the existence of diverse forms of joy for each of us. These grinning children derived more happiness from learning our (probably strange sounding) names than many people derive from luxurious and extravagant lifestyles. During morning meditation we are often asked to reflect on our values and consider the importance of a joyful life over a affluent one. A joyful life is a successful life, affluent or not. These children exemplified the aforementioned principle by living life to the fullest, enjoying themselves and laughing without the luxury many people equate with success. In the end, our similarities with these children far outweighed our differences, and laughing with them, even for just a minute, helped me see their potential for joy; these children had an abundance of life in them, they were full of happiness and energy. It did not matter how anyone else saw their situation, they determined and created their own happiness from the moment.
When we visited the Riverside school a few days after meeting the children outside their school and were asked to list twenty-one things that brought us joy, I had no hesitation in jotting down “Seeing others smile.” I wondered what those children by the Gandhi Ashram would put on their own list of things that brought them joy. While I wouldn’t guess that “learning foreigners’ names” would be on their list, I considered how they found joy in different places than we do; each one of us can make a mental shift to find joy in the small things in life which add up to a larger happiness displayed perfectly by the kids at the Gandhi Ashram.