March 22, 2020, marks the day the metropolitan area was “paused” by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to slow the spread of COVID-19. We all know why this was done — but it wasn’t until a couple of weeks later, on a Sunday in April, that I realized what I have lost.

I am fortunate to be healthy — so far — and to be retired with a pension. I am not facing any crises and have no loved ones who are in danger. But, I have lost something.

Before the pandemic my life was very full. I have had to cancel my volunteer teaching of immigrant women — I am sure they are overwhelmed by this situation, especially having to home-school their children in a language foreign to many of them. I have lost the opportunity to help them.

I have had to cancel working on a philanthropic luncheon with my women’s club that would have raised money for a deserving charity as well as provide a wonderful chance for more than 100 women to congregate and enjoy one another’s company.

I have had to cancel playing mah-jongg with my friends. For some of the older ladies especially, this is truly a chance to mingle and stay in touch while close to home. I have had to cancel cabaret night in my condo complex. Residents enjoy music groups, meeting one another, and coffee and cake once a month. I have had to cancel myriad other luncheons and dinners — retirements, birthday celebrations, breakfast groups, condo spring lunches.

I have had to cancel having my cleaning lady and I worry about her finances during this time. I had to cancel a Lenten soup supper at my church that focused on the Easter story and our reason for belief in a higher power. I had to cancel church services completely.

The one activity left (other than walks outside, cleaning closets and watching TV) is going to the grocery for essential food items.

On that Sunday in April, I lined up at ShopRite with the other masked and gloved people to enter at 7 a.m. Everyone was polite and scurried around purposefully to obtain the items on their lists.

At one display a man and I simultaneously reached for an item. He deferred to me and I smiled at him. Then it struck me — I’ve lost my smile!

He couldn’t see it behind the medical mask I was wearing. I said “thank you” but by then he had grabbed his item and had hurried away.

This simple instinctive gesture almost brought me to tears — I had lost my smile. A smile is such a part of us — it conveys love, appreciation, happiness, consent, among other things.

While losing other things during this crisis, this is the thing I miss the most — making a basic human connection with another. I’ve never been a hugger, so I don’t miss that; but I am a smiler.

When the chaos is over, I want my smile back. I want to show everyone I see that we have something to smile about — and I sincerely pray that we will.

Susan Bruno, 


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