My daughter sat beside me as I downloaded the files. My daughter who has seen me work before, watched as I’ve opened images, filtered through the rows of happy faces, of brides stepping into their wedding gowns, of pristine couples standing at alters, in gardens, in cathedrals, in every beautiful place.
My daughter, at two, ooohs and awwws at most every picture with a person’s pretty, smiling face. She will laugh, if she sees a baby laughing. She will touch her cheek and let loose a hushed, oh no, when a baby appears sad.
Tonight, she sat beside me, sucking on a Gogurt and watching as I flipped through the images of a shoot of Manchester Homeless Services Center. No brides. No grooms. No giggling babies. She sat quiet for a few minutes, watching as I skimmed through the catalog.
Signs. Florescent lights. A room that looks almost clinical, like a waiting area, a holding pen. Books. Games. One television.
And finally, people. Dozens of them, in chairs, reading, sleeping, watching a movie from the nineties, huddled together, talking quietly (or-not-so.) Others up and about, doing odd jobs to help out, chatting, waiting in line for their turn in the shower.
Faces, so many faces.
And from the silence beside me, came the first soft oooooh, and then an awww, and a few that’s silly.
Dat girl mile piddy, Mama?
So focused on the pictures, it took me a moment to realize she was talking to me and not just at the computer screen. I blinked and focused and saw, my daughter was right. And I noticed I had been smiling the whole time myself.
Yes, she does smile pretty.
You see, my two year old daughter sees faces.
She sees people.
She doesn’t see rich people.
She doesn’t see homeless people.
She doesn’t see mistakes.
She doesn’t see baggage.
She doesn’t see where they were last night.
She doesn’t see the trail of decisions that led them to her.
She sees happiness.
She sees hurt.
She sees herself, reflected in their smiles.
She sees herself, reflected in their frowns.
She really sees them.
Like, how I remember seeing them, once upon a time.
How I try to see them still.
The woman in the picture doesn’t have a pretty smile for someone down on their luck. She doesn’t have a pretty smile because she’s posing for a picture. She has a pretty smile, because God gave her eyes that catch the sunlight just-so and because she has something that bubbles up from inside herself and grabs you with a glance, that stops you for even just a moment, with her smile.
The person in the picture. The person with the pretty eyes that made my daughter insist on my attention. The person who made me smile, hours later, sitting at the computer and remembering our brief minute together, out in the frigid February afternoon, shifting for shadows as the sun started cutting across the snow.
This (homeless) person, was asked by two students taking down her life narrative this afternoon: What advice do you have for people who are not homeless?
Her answer: Not all homeless people are bad. Some of them just want jobs…even a smile helps.