Stephen Horenstein
Music, Arts and Society


Smile (photo by Stephen Horenstein)
Smile (photo by Stephen Horenstein)

Last night I had my first corona vaccine. Throughout it all, I looked around and felt a deep sadness, though the cure for all our woes, ie. the light at the end of the tunnel, now seems imminent. And yet, while looking into the eyes of those dozens of people around me, I sensed a weariness. I was frustrated not to see smiles, but then realized that because masks are our norm we are only half present. I suddenly felt thirsty for those smiles. Even the nurses who attended us were polite but I wondered if they were smiling when they greeted us. All we had were their eyes, hand gestures and tone of voice.

Yes, we are knee-deep in “seger” again, seeing less, buying less, and most likely smiling less. In fact, for ten months we have seen few smiles in the street, something which must have had a profound change in our national psyche, resulting in fatigue, lack of patience and a severe case of the grouchies.

Of late, I have had to turn on a nightly comedy to get in a few laughs, but during the day I suffer. Seeing real smiles heals in a subtle way, like homeopathic medicine. A little goes a long way. I also remember normal times whiles smiles surprised me, appearing when I least expected them. They were like tiny rainbows on totally overcast days.

I recently tried to smile with my eyes, but found it exceptionally painful.

Of late, when I pass people on the street I rarely recognize them. On a good day, I can recognize someone, but more often than not I quickly pass them, later realizing that I KNEW then and totally embarrassed at ignoring them. From time to time I even fantasize that I am in some exotic land where masks make beauty even more enticing. I have noticed that seeing just people’s eyes does trigger the imagination, but that it does not provide the exciting visceral thrill of a healing smile.

Yes, not knowing what’s happening under people’s masks is frustrating. After all, the mouth is a very subtle expressive organ, perhaps even more so than the eyes, for like clouds, the mouth can form infinite shapes, signals and meanings. Gestures can speak louder than words and words are emptier without facial gestures.

Indeed, I have found that a good smile possesses a medicinal quality, whether it greets me, assures me, draws me closer, or reminds me that I am one of the flock. My favorite smile song is: “When you’re smiling, when you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you”. Indeed, smiles are also contagious. Have you noticed how just one smiling person can set a whole crowd doing the same. Multiply that by a smiling minion and you get a whole lot of happier people.

I have noticed that even on sunny days, when the birds are singing and everything seems to be “going my way”, without smiles to greet me, pamper and caress me, I feel grey, one-dimensional and sad. The sadness is not one which is overwhelming like depression, but one that stubbornly lingers like a Pacific doldrum. I remember that feeling while living through a Vermont winter when I didn’t see the sun for forty days. Recently I have started to feel the same way; I know that we are all in the same boat sharing the same fate. A plague does not distinguish between rich and poor.

The Merriam -Webster dictionary defines smile as:

a facial expression in which the eyes brighten and the corners of the mouth curve slightly upward and which expresses especially amusement, pleasure, approval….

Can you imagine life without amusement, pleasure, or approval?

Life without communication?

Life without the “touch” of a smile?.

Doctors also have verified the medicinal properties of smiling. I recently read how smiling helps improve mood and positive thoughts, helps to lower blood pressure, provides relief from stress, creates better relationships (smiling people are more likable), builds natural immunity, and provides relief from pain leading to a longer life. Of course takes “two to tango.” and though a single smile can be healing, multiple smiles are exponentially effective.

Funny Masks (selfie photo by Sherry Heiser)

Furthermore, I know that when I smile my endorphins (neurotransmitters) are also released, helping me to feel happierand less stressful. Even when I fake a smile it has a smilier effect as the real thing. I have also found that going days and months without a smile has led to severe emotional damage throughout my psyche.

I recently received this funny photo from my cousin Sherry and her husband Auwe who live in paradise on the north shore of Ohau (Hawaii).  Their drawing of smiles was humorous and made me chuckle. What if everyone would draw smiles on their masks, would it help?

So as a finale to this blog, I thought I would shower you with smiles. I have taken them from my photo album. I hope they help you get through the day!

Harold Rubin z”l (legendary musician, photo by his wife Miriam)
Dear Brother (photo my Roxanne Pappenheimer)
Family Outing (photo by the author)
The Gang of Musicians (photo by Ruth Horenstein)
Athan Gadanitus and Friend (Photo by Stephen Horenstein)
Relaxing (selfie by the author)
Gershon Swirsky z”l (photo by Stephen Horenstein)
Duo (photo by the author)
Calm and saxophone (photo by the author)
Early portrait, Bro and Bro (photo by Sarah Horenstein z”l)
About the Author
Stephen Horenstein is a composer, researcher and educator. His repertoire of musical works has been performed and recorded worldwide. He has been a recipient of the Israel Prime Minister's Prize for Composers and the National Endowment of the Arts (USA). His teaching has included Bennington College, Brandeis University, Tel Aviv University, Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance; residencies at Stanford University, York University, California Institute of the Arts, and others. He is Founder and Director of the Jerusalem Institute of Contemporary Music, established in 1988 to bring the music of our time to a wider audience.
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