Three years ago, I started collecting smiles when I traveled.

I remember the moment that brought this idea forward vividly: I was in the Chicago Airport traveling through the tunnel and admiring the pretty lights. I looked around trying to make eye contact with someone I might share the experience of the fun and vibrant colored tubes with. The problem was, I couldn’t find anyone. It wasn’t for lack of options – there were plenty of people around, they just weren’t willing or able to make eye contact.  Rather, they had their heads down in their phones or straight ahead, as if there was no one else in the vicinity.

I remember letting out a sigh, first because there was no one to connect and share my appreciation with, second at the sadness flooding over me over my loneliness in a sea of humans, and lastly at the realization of my part in it all.  The rest of that trip, I pondered what part I could play in the human connection. Not long after I was sitting in my seat considering the “how” of it all, a young man walked by. I looked up, and we exchanged a warm smile. I noticed it made me feel good, and I believe the feeling was mutual.  My “Smile Collection” had its first smile.

The rest of the way home, I set up the “rules” of my new adventure: collecting smiles.

I add smiles to my collection only when I travel.My goal is to collect a dozen smiles each direction of my trip. I usually exceed this goal; however, on a trip returning through the Charlotte Airport, I almost did not make it. I was at my gate sitting across from a handsome older gentleman with a beautiful cowboy hat and boots on. His legs were stretched out across the aisle (they were too long to do anything else) as he enjoyed the latest issue of the Wall Street Journal. His engagement in his reading combined with the cover of his cowboy hat made it tougher than usual to share a glance with him. I’m pretty adept at moving enough energy to create an awareness of my presence, yet what I was sending was not getting received.

The balance between collecting a smile and feeling a bit creepy is more of a fine line than I had anticipated. So, after a good fifteen minutes of trying to connect with this cowboy, I settled into my book. The announcements for boarding began, and everyone bustled around gathering their things. We all got into our boarding lines and moved along. I only had 10 smiles at this point and was wondering if this trip may miss the target. In line, I locked eyes with another woman who very generously offered me a smile, leaving me with one to go. I was soon in my seat and settled for the flight home when I could feel the energy of someone staring at me. As I looked up, I fell into the grin of a handsome cowboy. His smile was wry and full of life. I beamed a smile back and nodded, my heart warm and excited – we had connected after all.

This moment in time brought me back to one of my favorite movies of all time, Under the Tuscan Sun, when Diane Lane’s character pops out of her bedroom window every day to watch an older man place flowers on what looks like a memorial for a loved one that has passed. At the end of the movie, the gentleman finally looks back at her, tips his hat, and offers her a grin. I am always so moved by that simple, yet profound connection.

Life is a string of ordinary moments we share in human connection, with a splash of spectacular along the way.

I am honored to call the 1148 current smiles in my collection some of the most ordinarily wonderful moments on my journey. I encourage us all to look up, connect, and send love whenever we can.

Soul to Soul,

Lex