Ever since that ubiquitous yellow circle with drawn on eyes and upward curved mouth told us to "have a nice day", the symbol is synonymous with joy. This universal positive sign transcends any language barriers that separate our world, acknowledging that we like it. Or even that we like you. Being liked nowadays is as special as clicking a button on a post. However, this powerful smiley simply pleases and nods a resounding "YES". I get you. We get you. Isn't it nice to have a mutual understanding that you're not alone, but embraced? Temporary, like a tasty morsel of chocolate candy. But just as impactful.
My Tyler was diagnosed with Autism at age 14 months. The reality of this disorder is that he is often separated from the rest of the kids in school settings. Also social integration is more forced than a natural skill. He doesn't participate in everything that typical people may take for granted. He's never thrown a pass. He hasn't traveled with his school choir or band to perform. He doesn't hang out with his friends after school to talk about the latest video game or the prettiest girl at junior high. Instead, he shares his love for educational videos or streaming Netflix. He is fulfilled, yet pushed out of simple pleasures that bring people together.
Not too many days ago, we celebrated an awesome event with our family, my husband's birthday. Tyler sat beside his adult sister, a bright, talented young lady who embraces social media. We noshed on pizzas from this amazing local chain. (This restaurant has become a fast favorite for my husband, so it was the ideal choice.) His sister couldn't resist the cell phone, texting and checking her timeline. I am guessing that there were some likes, because the happy emoji guy showed up. What happened next is true magic.
Tyler was extremely intrigued by having his sister around, as she attends college away. He was so busy watching her moves that he could hardly consume his perfectly cheesy Italian Sausage slice. There was something magical happening on the cell screen; the smiley face that my son was familiar with somehow also loves being online. This smile is universal, so he knows it well. When he saw the emoji, a huge grin coursed over his face. His narrow downward eyes opened with a light of joy. How and why is this little emoji on a text message so potent? So effective and all encompassing?
After the meal was over and we'd finished the 2 hour commute back to our abode, Tyler took a few moments to address his thoughts. The standout of the night wasn't the Pizza Shack's crazy good pizza pies in BBQ Chicken. (Although I promise I have never tasted such a decadent slice in my life...) That magic was in the emoji, how he told me that he thought of his classmates when he saw that cherubic little symbol smiling. His voice was strong and he seemed confident in his skin. For a moment, I know he was touching the world. His sister would have never known that her smiley face emoji left an imprint on his heart. Opened a curious mind and fed a hunger for acceptance.
A smiley emoji empowered my son that night. It said you aren't alone, but a part of this circle. No separation from the power of being liked or loved. A face that says, I get you. That your feelings are just like everyone else's. You're my friend and can make a friend that will smile back at you without judgement. Why should someone with special needs live an existence that separates instead of drawing him nearer to self awareness. Completeness. Being joyful in your place in the universe. Knowing that when you see a smile, you've arrived for one moment. Breathe in these tiny small victories and take all of the happy smileys into your world. They are surely as long lasting as cotton candy, but the memories preserve joy for a lifetime.
My Tyler's very first text will surely feature a circular fellow (or lady) in yellow who never has a bad day. Remember that differences aren't negative but a learning experience. Leave more smiley faces.
Live your life in color.