by Father Mark Goldasich
I made my public speaking debut on Friday, Nov. 4, 1960.
The entire grade school had gathered in the gym to help our pastor, Msgr. Charles Stimac, celebrate his name day on the feast of St. Charles Borromeo.
For days, my teacher Sister Proxeda had been practicing with me. My one line was: “Happy fish day, Monsignor!” Did I mention that I was in kindergarten at the time?
When my folks heard me practicing at home, my dad said gently, “Uh, son, the word is ‘feast,’ not ‘fish.’ You should be saying, ‘Happy FEAST day, Monsignor.’”
“Oh, no,” I answered. “Sister said it was ‘fish’!”
My mom chimed in next, “No, Mark, I don’t think that you’re hearing Sister right.” I’m sure she remembered my first day of school when, in answer to her question about who was in my class, I said, “Steven Professor and Mark Slaw.” Their actual names were Steven Ferbezar and Mark Law.
“I’m sure,” Mom persisted, “that Sister Proxeda is saying ‘feast.’”
Well, I knew better.
The big day came, and Mom was there, as she was a kindergarten room mother. When it was my turn, I proudly and defiantly proclaimed, in the loudest voice I could muster, “Happy FISH day, Monsignor!”
Later, Mom approached Msgr. Stimac to apologize. With a kindly smile and a twinkle in his eyes, he said, “Angeline, don’t worry! Mark was still right. After all, it IS a Friday, isn’t it?” (For our younger readers, when I was growing up, Catholics were required to abstain from meat every Friday during the year.)
I still smile at that long-ago memory. And how appropriate, because this first week of August is National Smile Week. As this pandemic continues to plague us, we need smiles now more than ever.
The late comedian Phyllis Diller once said, “A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.” Every morning, I have a routine. As I roll out of bed and head to the bathroom, I stop and smile at myself in the mirror. It has a remarkable effect: I don’t concentrate on my bleary eyes or ever-disappearing hair. All I see are the happy wrinkles around my eyes as I recite my daily mantra: “Lord, I’m a mess! But a blessed mess!”
A smile helps to keep me balanced amid the sobering news that so often surrounds us. And the more that I smile, the more I discover to smile about. Here are some strategies that I’ve found helpful:
• Find an image of a smiling Jesus. Yes, they do exist! Can you imagine Jesus being fully human and never smiling? One of my favorites shows Jesus by the sea, holding onto a net and looking at the viewer with obvious delight.
• Conjure up some happy memories. One that sticks in my mind occurred at an Eagle ceremony for some Boy Scouts from the parish. A girl got up at one point to read a poem by Mike Wood entitled, “This Uniformed Little Boy.” The only problem was she kept saying, “uninformed,” instead of “uniformed.” The word is repeated several times in the poem, and it got harder and harder for me to keep a straight face. I think I still have scar tissue on the inside of my cheeks from holding in the laughter!
• Shuffle through old photos. When I see those people who have been a part of my life smiling at me from the photos, it warms my heart and lights up my face.
• Write down and post uplifting quotes. A good one is this Chinese proverb: “Use your smile to change the world; don’t let the world change your smile.”
The nice thing about a smile is that even with a mask on people can see a genuine one because it will naturally travel to your eyes.
So, get thee to a mirror and practice flashing those pearly whites.
By the way, this paper comes out on the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola. So, for all of you named Ignatius — and for all who have a special place in your heart for the Jesuit order he founded — I say, “Happy fish day!”