I looked through my old photo albums tonight, as I moved them from the trunk where they have lived for the last 5 years to a cardboard box for storage and eventual transport home (or only to my forever home, depending on how things go). The girl I was 15 years ago, and even 12 years ago, was almost a stranger to me because of how long it has been since my face bore that 100-watt smile. It will again someday, hopefully soon; I think it maybe even has a time or two in the last 6 weeks. But a time or two every quarter, instead of in practically every photo I took? I was sobered and saddened by that divergence.
I am also minded of The Princess Bride book and its description of Buttercup post-Westley’s death by pirates:
“She had entered her room an impossibly lovely girl. The woman who emerged was a trifle thinner, a great deal wiser, an ocean sadder. This one understood the nature of pain, and beneath the glory of her features, there was character, and a sure knowledge of suffering.”
In that lies a kind of solace. I know things the girl who always had that smile did not, and knowing is always better than not knowing. My smile might never again have the innocence of hers, but its absence will make the happiness that much brighter.