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Shiny, happy people they're not

Sour folks don't seem to love their lives, even a little

She has a face like a torn scone. That's what my mother-in-law would have said. And then she would have let it go. She was not the type of woman who would have spent even a minute of her time trying to get a permanently dour someone to smile.

So why can't I let it go? Why do I think that if I work hard enough, if I try just a little more, I'll find underneath this woman's scowl a hint, a glimmer , of a smile?

The someone I am trying to engage is healthy, smart, educated, and wealthy. She has healthy, smart kids, a husband who loves her , and a life that most of the people on this planet don't even know exists. I have known her for years. I think that someday she'll say something positive about something.

A simple ``Nice day" would do.

``Beautiful day," I would so love to hear.

But I have never heard her say anything is beautiful -- not even her children, not even when they were small.

I see her at a party and ask about them , and she tells me they're fine, but without joy.

I ask about her life, her house, her garden, and it's the same thing.

This is who she is, who she has always been -- not a curmudgeon, because curmudgeons can be cajoled. Just sour. Just not in love with life.

I want to say to her -- but why now? Because I am older? Because I can't bear her indifference any more? -- ``Take a look around you. Open your eyes. Can't you see all you have?

`` You are not in a hospital emergency room. You are not waiting to hear if someone you love is going to survive. You are not on dialysis. You are not having chemotherapy. Your husband is not in Iraq. You are not living in a war zone or from paycheck to paycheck. You are living in the lap of luxury, and no matter what else may be wrong, look at all that's right. Look at all you've been given. "

I think about my friend Sal , who had Lou Gehrig's disease, who lived the last 10 years of his life in a hospital, in a bed. This disease took everything from him. He couldn't paint the beauty that fed his soul. He couldn't walk or talk or breathe on his own. He couldn't smell the ocean or hug his kids. But right up until the day he died, he could smile. And he did.

You'd think he had nothing to smile about. But his friends made him smile , and music and movies and the sun on his face and the branches of the tree outside his window that he could see sometimes, if someone turned his head. And memories made him smile. Remembering all that he used to have.

My grandmother was a sour woman. She was old. She was alone. She was poor , and her sons lived far away. And her daughters? Well, they were just daughters. She fussed and fumed at them. ``You bought the wrong hot dogs! You forgot the sardines!" You didn't do this. You should have done that. My mother and my aunt shopped for her and cared for her, but it was her boys she ached to see.

She physically changed when she talked about them. Her eyes lit up. She lit up. Every Mother's Day, they sent her cards and roses and her lips would curl and her whole face would soften as she showed her treasures to my mother and me. A smile transformed my grandmother. I could imagine who she had been once, and who she could be still if we could make her as happy as her sons did.

People have problems; they always have and always will. Everyone gets down sometimes. Illness. Loss. Hunger for things you can never have. Hunger for things you can't even see.

Sometimes joy can feel as far away as a distant planet.

But joy lives within us. My grandmother taught me this. Hers was buried but not so deep that you couldn't get to it.

I hope that there is someone who makes my scowling, very privileged friend feel a little of the joy she was born with. I hope that she is happier than she appears. Maybe in her home, surrounded by just her family, she is different. Maybe her eyes light up and her face softens and she holds her children close and whispers, ``Beautiful."

Not just for her children's sake but for hers, I hope this is so.

Beverly Beckham can be reached at

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