I’ll never forget the smile of my grandmother (po po/婆婆).
Her soft, inviting grin greeted me every time I visited her with my parents and sister.
Po Po always seemed excited to see us, but she expressed her excitement with a modesty that few people could perceive or appreciate outside of the family. Her excitement was infused with a subtle warmth that could only be felt in her presence.
Po po’s smile was the most conspicuous outward expression of the happiness she felt inside from being around her children and grandchildren.
Despite her failing health and memory, po po managed to live into her nineties and kept smiling until her facial muscles finally succumb to the effects of aging.
When I see the serene smile of the Tathāgata depicted on Buddha on statue, I’m sometimes reminded of my po po’s gentle smile.
I’ve also been reminded by the smiles of my teachers in the Thai Forest Tradition and the many people I met in the “Land of Smiles.”
As someone who struggles with anxiety-fueled melancholy at times, seeing people smile with sincerity uplifts me and gives me hope that a genuine happiness that can still be found.
My po po survived the horrors of war of the early and mid-20th century and lived to share her story with us. If aerial bombs had rained down and demolished the dwelling where po po was living in her young adulthood—instead of striking and destroying the dwelling next to it—my mother may never have been born.
And I may not never have been part of my po po’s family.
Perhaps one of the reasons she survived was to show me the power of a smile and the potential to find happiness within.