About a smile

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When I first saw his picture, I mistook him for the dad from That’s So Raven. His height, build, coloring, and, most importantly, his smile, were all very similar. But he was not the actor. He was Chris Dorner. Alleged murderer on a self-proclaimed quest to wrest vigilante justice from the hands of the allegedly murderous (of careers) LAPD.

I began my Sunday by reading all of Chris Dorner’s letter. Strange, sure, but the bits and pieces I was picking up through social media just weren’t enough. I wanted to get to know him for myself.

It took me over an hour to finish the 14 pages. I kept stopping to run upstairs and share with my bed-ridden wife what I was learning. I can’t claim to have read many, if any, other letters from men planning to assassinate members of the general public. But I wasn’t nearly as repelled as I thought I would be and probably should have been. I was fascinated. I was taken in by his story, as one-sided and self-serving as my better judgment told me that it had to be. And I couldn’t, for the life of me, get past his smile.

As it turns out, no one else can either. Literally.

As @bomani_jones wrote today on his blog:

2. Did Dorner smile in every picture he ever took in his life? When you’re accused of killing three people, they don’t just put any ol’ picture of you in the newspaper. Sorry, but that great picture you and your date took at the prom? They’ll only use that in the paper if you got hit by a drunk driver on the way home.
But every time I see Dorner, he’s got the biggest grin on his face. Trust, no one saw those pictures and stopped digging for one more “appropriate.” Yet and still, we’ve got a character from the movies hiding out, claiming he has a missile launcher, got the cops scared half to death. [***]
I’m not saying this guy is the Jolly Green Giant because he smiled in his pictures. I’m just saying it ain’t every day America’s only visions of a mass murderer have him looking like he just won the lottery.

Bomani is right. This isn’t the image of a murderer that we’re used to. Even those with seemingly happy exteriors who eventually crack have something sinister for the press to run with by now. And it isn’t just his smile, but his seeming inability to not smile that has me finding more common ground with this alleged murderer than I feel comfortable admitting. As an uncontrollable smiler myself, I find myself thinking that we are, perhaps, cut from the same cloth.

Obviously, Chris Dorner wasn’t always smiling. He’s been suffering for many years and admits as much in his letter. In fact, he offers his brain to science to study the effect of the deep depression that set in after (?) his firing from the LAPD. But if I had to guess, and I speak from experience here, his smile didn’t completely disappear once the depression set in. In fact, it was probably even more eager to surface during this time, to find any hint of joy in the most mundane of life’s occurrences.

Everytime you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.
– Mother Teresa

But it could not be sustained indefinitely. No smile can be when it is being accused, whether realistically or imagined, of not existing in the first place.

How fucking dare you try to label me with such a nasty vile word. [***] Don’t ever call me a fucking bully.
– Chris Dorner

No one likes to be painted as something they are not, and Chris is no exception. The corollary to that is not being recognized for who you really are. What I read in Chris’ words is a history of a smile that has been ignored, spat upon and under valued. What stands out to me as the true catalyst behind this tragedy is his perception of being painted without the smile that he knows he wore so faithfully, the gift that he gave to so many everyday. The name that he writes so passionately about is a name that should be, in his mind, associated with all of the morality and ethics that his smile could convey. Yet, it no longer did. And he felt he had to change that.

Chris was, in my opinion, in a position that many smilers would and have found untenable.

But it seems antithetical to change the perception of your smile or lack thereof with a gun, no? Well, and I speak from experience again, smiles don’t make great weapons. “Kill ’em with kindness”? While it’s cute to say and certainly mirrors the golden rule, it’s a load of BS. No one has gotten so much as a hangnail from kindness, let alone been killed by it. The Care Bears lied to you.

The implications of this could (should) be scary. Scary, because Chris isn’t the only person who has had his smile stepped on and thrown back in his face. Scary, because there are a million other Chris’ who are lied upon, used and ignored when their smile is mistaken as a sign of social weakness rather than moral character. Scary, because ours is a culture that values those who can draw blood with their words rather than those who would never dream of doing so.

Or, maybe not. Maybe Chris is just a sad example of how unaddressed depression can spiral out of control. Maybe we don’t need to be more intentional about valuing the potential for kindness that we all possess and that many of us display. Maybe a smile is nothing more than a coordinated movement of muscles sparked by a chemical release in the brain.

Maybe.

You can go a long way with a smile. You can go a lot further with a smile and a gun.
– Al Capone

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