Symbols of the world's religions



Phyllis Silverman Ott-Toltz and Barbara Bamberger Scott

Mehera was nearly always smiling sweetly, though sometimes if the subject being discussed was sad, she appeared to gaze inward. Then there would be pensiveness to her mouth but she still maintained an agreeable countenance. Phyllis found herself comparing Mehera's expression to the face and especially the mouth of the Mona Lisa, eternally turned up at the corners.

On Sunday, all the visitors gathered with a program of entertainment in the Master's Hall. Phyllis was proud to sit behind Mehera and to be able to keep her adoring eye on that holy form. When the program ended, visitors passed by Mehera to take their leave. When Phyllis' turn came, "I was dressed in my finest, and had done my hair and make-up with care. When I presented my face to her, full of my feelings of love, she said, 'Phyllis, you must smile, for when you don't your face is not very acceptable."

Crushed, hurt, ashamed of her face again, Phyllis moved out to solitude in the yard. "I probably asked for a cigarette to stem the pain. How could it be? I adored Mehera's face, and she was revolted by mine." At the very least, it seemed to Phyllis that Mehera rejected her face. Feeling indescribable pain, Phyllis was determined literally not to show her face again in Meherazad, Mehera's home.

To wear a smile had always seemed to me to be pretending. Wasn't it Rigoletto, the clown, who took red paint and made a happy upturned mouth on top of his tragic face? If my face is unacceptable, how would putting on a smile make it acceptable? Shouldn't a smile be sincere?"

The conflict of feeling awe and a sense of seriousness toward Mehera and showing a happy face as though she took things lightly was deeply troubling. In Phyllis' mind, it seemed hypocritical. Being an important person had always meant being a serious person.... but here was the great figure in her life, Mehera ... ordering her to smile.

She brooded on this for two days, kept to herself and away from Mehera. Then with all her courage pulled together, she went to Mehera after the other visitors had left on Wednesday evening. "Mehera," she choked, "You said that my face is not acceptable without a smile. But I don't know how to smile."

".... Often in my childhood if I got happy, and would start to laugh and smile, I'd be criticized. I was supposed to be smiling and laughing only in response to some shared situation or joke.... To wear a cool or stiff face had become part of my social conditioning."

"Well, I'll show you how to smile," replied Mehera, both kind and concerned. She tilted her face to give a three-quarters view of herself to Phyllis, saying, "Turn your head a little bit to the side. Now show a little bit of your teeth, and give a little lift of the eyes as you look out from the corner that has come to the center of your face." She had put her lips into a smile showing just a little of teeth back of the lips, and then her eyes moved to the corner close to Phyllis and a little lilt or sparkle emanated from them. "Now you try," Mehera said.

Phyllis moved her head a little to one side, and she looked out of the corner of her eyes at Mehera while commanding her lips to imitate Mehera's. "A little less tooth should show." Mehera again went through the routine with her face, first turning it a little to one side, and smiling with her lips. "Now give that little open glance with your eyes."

Again Phyllis moved her head slightly to one side as her lips parted slightly into an upturned gesture. "Now give that little twinkle with your eyes." Phyllis thought the command, Eyes, twinkle!, and hoped her eyes would obey.

"That's it," Mehera said, "Now let's see you do it again." Phyllis ran through the routine, and Mehera burst out laughing, "You're flirting! The glance from the eyes has got to be pure joy." And pulling Phyllis into her arms, she led her, now smiling, down the steps to the end of the yard.

The visitor's bus was blowing its horn to signal departure. "Go on and run for it," Mehera said, warmly aiming Phyllis in its direction. Phyllis looked back over her shoulder and threw Mehera a kiss and a smile.


2006 © Phyllis Silverman Ott-Toltz


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