The Smile



In the photograph, I am slight, a waif of a woman standing beside her man. We may have been celebrating our anniversary, or we may have been celebrating that I was alive. Perhaps it was both.

The smile on my face read relief, but the eyes did not join the mouth in the bright way eyes shine at a moment of happiness.

The camera had been handed over to the Mayan man, sun-kissed and short with one tooth missing on the upper left. He was the man who served us breakfast and lunch and dinner. Wearing a much different smile than mine, he smiled the necessary one that comes with serving others for the price of a wage.

The small hotel hugged a lagoon just off the blue Caribbean. We chose the hotel based on size. We needed small, quiet. The lagoon was a surprise.

A reef broke the waves, calmed them to bubbles as they slipped to the shore. They melted away all day long and into the night.

The first day we sat beside the lagoon, slowed with its rhythmic song, and resisted unpacking the memories we had left at home. It was a new day. 

On the second day, when the air warmed and the palms rattled in the breeze against an azure sky, we left our books on the chairs and found our way to the closet-size surf shop to rent snorkels and fins. The cost was a crisp American twenty-dollar bill. The ocean beckoned, “Come.”

I sat in the shallows. The water rose and receded around me, scooping my backside into a seat of sorts. Adjusting the straps on the goggles and the flippers, I was eager to see what was hidden below the shimmer of sunshine before me.

Jeff went first, lunged forward on to his belly, outstretched arms pulled the ocean back and out toward the reef. I followed in his wake.

At first, I struggled with the goggles, the glass filled with a cloud of my breath. I choked down the salty water from the pipe before relaxing my shoulders, surrendering my body to let the sea hold me. 

I marveled at the light refracted on the sandy bottom and the tiny fish, minnows really, perfect for fishing. Suddenly, I came upon a sight that stunned me. It was a giant brain coral. What did it think of me hovering above, gawking?

I didn’t care. I laughed at God’s sense of humor and would have been pleased with seeing only the brain but the sea offered more. 

Tiny purple fish with black fins went about their day around and over a coral landscape with its orange-cragged boulders and maroon fans. Bright yellow beauties not bigger than my thumb were nipping at the coral, busy eating, and not the least concerned with the woman casting her shadow from above.

Jeff startled me when he grabbed me by the arm, beckoned me to come with a silent nod of his head, to hurry.

Kicking harder to follow, his hand slipped down my arm to take my hand as we followed a school of fish, silver painted with a single yellow stripe.

Falling in line with hundreds of silver swimmers, we took a guided tour of a world my eyes had never seen. We followed the leader, synchronized, turning on cue like a cloud of blackbirds. We swam on and on until we could no longer keep up. 

Surfacing, gasping for air like we had just crossed the finish line of a marathon, we began talking over each other's words, spewing forth the silent joy we had experienced, extolling the wonders just below.

The slight waif of the woman was alive. 

And she smiled---this time with her eyes.



I remember that day of awe so vividly. It was the first time I had seen a coral reef or had ever peered under the surface of the ocean. I was coming out of the depths having spent the most part of a year in a debilitating clinical depression (c. 2000). Parts of my story are recorded elsewhere on my blog. God used a surprise, an encounter with wonder to awaken my soul, to bring me joy. God is always creating. He is absolutely into new.

When or where has God surprised you with wonder? I would love to hear about it if you want to share in the comments. 



This story was written in response to a writing prompt in Dave Harrity's book: Making Manifest:  Faith, Creativity and the Kingdom at Hand. I have joined peeps from all over the world in Facebook group this past week led by Sandra Heska King. Sandy is leading discussion and a creating a place to share comments and posts on poetry, writing, and creativity. We are exploring being God's poemia (Eph. 2:10), his masterpiece, through the media of writing and poetry.

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