Ode to the smile

Imagine if you were a baby that was born in the past year and a half. Certainly, here in Spain all you would have seen on the street in your short life would have been masked people on the street. Anyone who leaned over your stroller with sparkling eyes, cooing noises and exaggerated baby talk, would have worn something covering their mouth and nose.  Apart from your own family household, you would generally have seen only masked humans and therefore, quite naturally have believed that is what humanity looked like. Other than the occasional terrible mask with a grotesque Joker smile or a grinning shark jaw, the mouth and the human smile would have been veritably unknown to you.

Imagine then the utter shock when suddenly one day – for us in Spain on the 26th of June – all of a sudden everyone was allowed to walk outside amongst other people without covering their mouth and nose. You would sit there in your stroller with wide eyes, totally flabbergasted, wondering what in heavens name had happened.


What’s that?!? Photo © Karethe Linaae


Where did suddenly all those strange, moving mouths and lips come from? Why could you hear the voices of this mumbling nation so much better than before? Would you have been scared? Or would you perhaps have thought: Gosh, golly, look at that! Fancy that there are more people than mum and dad who have openings and gaps in their faces!

It is completely incredible what we can get used to. During the first few days of being allowed to go outside on the street without a mask, I felt totally naked. Just as if I had forgotten to put clothes on or left my bag at home. Something was definitively not right. It felt very odd!


Too much carbon dioxide? Photo © Karethe Linaae


All the same, I can guarantee that most of us have thanked the higher powers for the gift of finally being able to get rid of our masks. I say getting rid of, but that is not entirely true. First, we still need to wear them when we are indoors in public places, and perhaps more importantly, none of us really knows what the future will bring. What happens even over the next few months is a big unknown. Many surely have, like I, dreamt of burning their masks in a vast communal bonfire, but with the situation being as it is, I will instead wash and fold the most comfortable and stylish of my now quite extensive mask repertoire, and store them. They will be put away like the winter clothes, ready for another day, just in case…

Masks drying in the summer breeze. Photo © Karethe Linaae


But let’s forget about the masks. It is time for a tribute!

What a true joy it is to be able to see the faces of people on the streets again! I mean the entire face – nose, cheeks, mouth, chin, and skin with freckles and scars and all the lovely wrinkles that appear when people smile. What an utter blessing it is to be able to take deep profound breaths way down into our lungs, and exhale fully without having to breathe through 3 layers of synthetic cloth or a chemical smelling paper surgical mask – all which prevented us from taking a free breath of air while covering almost our entire faces.


Oh joy! Photo © Karethe Linaae


It cannot be healthy for one to breathe in one’s own recycled air either. In fact, a German study by JAMA Pediatrics from June of this year says that school children who wore masks all day received a significant increased level of carbon dioxide, in fact much higher than what the German Federal Environmental Office deems acceptable.

So, thank goodness, no more masks outside. What freedom and relief! It is enough to make me yodel with joy!

I had almost forgotten, but now that I can see them again – is there anything more beautiful and personal than the mouth? Yes, we can wrinkle our nose, inflate our cheeks, and maybe wiggle our ears, but that is nothing compared to our mouth. For me, the mouth is the most incredibly expressive sensory organ that we possess. Just think about a stunned, crying, laughing or furious mouth. Without the masks, we can now finally see how people are feeling again. Because if it is true that the eyes are the mirror of the soul, then our mouth is the mirror of our emotions.

The wonderful mouth. Photo © Karethe Linaae


The mouth simultaneously holds the trump card of all trump cards – the most beautiful, contagious, and universal of all human forms of expression – the smile! A smile can foster peace and understanding and open gates and hearts across cultures, religious and national borders. So now that you can, remember to SMILE!


Smile tattoo. Photo © Karethe Linaae


Recall the lovely melody that Charlie Chaplin composed in 1936, which John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons wrote the lyrics for, and that Nat King Cole made famous in a performance in 1954:


You’ll find that life is still worthwhile
If you just


Smile and the world smiles back at you. Photo © Karethe Linaae

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