Her name was Millicent, and she was my closest friend—literally. Millicent was a big, bulky back brace I wore in the ninth grade to help straighten the abnormal curvature of my spine. I called the brace Millicent because—well, because someone suggested I give it a name just for fun, and because that was my least favorite name at the moment.
I just wanted to fit in that year, but my days of melting into a crowd were over, at least until I stopped growing. Now I was stared at—a lot. Most of the time I tried to ignore the extra attention, but inside it really bothered me. And sometimes, more often than I would like to admit, I would even glare back.
But one time was different. I was with my family in the airport, eagerly waiting for my brother to get home from his mission. We talked in excited anticipation before his arrival. As we were talking, I glanced across the airport terminal and saw a woman watching me intently. This time, instead of scowling, I smiled and returned to my family’s conversation.
A few minutes later, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned to see the woman standing beside me. “I couldn’t help noticing the brace you’re wearing,” she said. “I had to wear one years ago when I was in high school, only mine was a lot more obvious than yours!” We chatted for a few minutes about our respective experiences, and then she wished me well and went on her way.
That experience got me thinking. I was encouraged to know there were others who knew how I felt. But it also made me realize I had always assumed people had negative reasons for staring at me—that they thought my brace was funny looking or strange. I’m sure some did think that. But there were probably plenty of other people who were not thinking negatively. And maybe I could have made some new friends if I had acknowledged them with a friendly smile.
I realized then how easy it is to jump to conclusions about people. We don’t always know what they’re really thinking or what their motivations are. And a smile will open more doors than a frown or glare ever will.