I happened upon an article in The Times of Israel chronicling the recent discovery of “history’s oldest smiley face,” After 7 grueling years of excavations near the Turkish border of war-torn Syria, the site of a famous biblical battle, archeologists uncovered a 4,000 year-old pot featuring the classic, stylized representation of a smiling face, comprised of the black dots and arc reminiscent of Harvey Ball’s 1963 design. Commissioned by an insurance company as part of a campaign to bolster the morale of its employees, the smiley face quickly became part of popular culture. It is central to today’s text-based cyber-communication, conveying tone and emotion through facial gestures in the short-hand language of emoticons.
Reading of the survival and re-emergence of this smile from 1700 BCE has filled me with a sense of hope. It also resonates with my choice of handbag.
When I rediscovered a treasured smiley face purse from childhood last year, I knew it was just the right accessory for me to sport once again. The election year had quickly escalated from strange to disturbing, and I felt the need for just such a bright spot. I have worn this bag in the subsequent 6 surreal months. My sartorial decision has had more impact than I could have imagined.
On a regular basis, people stop me on the street, honk and wave at me from their cars, approach me in stores, symphony halls and on public transportation, grinning, laughing and warmly letting me know how much they love my handbag. The day after the violence in Charlottesville, a somewhat dour woman eyeing me on the subway suddenly, earnestly, thanked me for wearing the bag, “especially during these times.” I found myself responding, “It helps, doesn’t it?”
What I’d thought was my private, playful fashion statement seems to be providing a much-needed public service. In troubled times, there is solace in discovering that each of us can be ambassadors of goodwill, even with a simple smile.