Adventures in Everyday


The Smile Factory
May 28, 2008, 11:53 pm
Filed under: academic, personal, psychology | Tags:

Inspired by a true story and a truly beautiful girl

Kissing quietly in my car behind her apartment building, it became increasingly obvious that the darkness outside posed no threat to my girlfriend’s luminous charm. She’s beautiful. A moment earlier, I had been trying to describe to her what I thought and felt each time I tell her that she’s pretty. I believe that statements like “you look pretty tonight” should be announced to one’s girlfriend somewhat sparingly, in order to prevent the compliment from losing its luster. Unfortunately, I find myself telling her how pretty she is every time I see her. Each time I say it I remind myself that maybe, just maybe, she won’t appear quite so exquisite the next time I see her, and, maybe, I’ll feel comfortable enough to keep my compliments to myself.

That never happens.

After awkwardly revealing my odd background thoughts, she smiled. I love her smiles and told her so. She announced that, somehow, I must be making these smiles of hers. I replied that we certainly produce them together – that the two of us must function as some sort of smile factory. When we are together, I explained, the smile factory manufactures smiles and then paints them onto her beautiful face several times each moment.

With that she delivered an exceptionally delicious kiss. And, like a living thing, the moment itself forced a muffled giggle out of my throat and into hers.

“I feel like I just swallowed a laugh,” the words emerged from another, freshly painted smile.

“Then your soul eats two things: laughter and love.” I said softly, “I’ll feed it both.”

Playfully, she reminded me that she doesn’t believe in souls. Of course she doesn’t believe in souls.

“Einstein didn’t believe in God but he spoke about him all the time,” I said. “Why can’t I talk about souls?”

My convocation ceremony is tomorrow afternoon. I’m being awarded a small parchment with the words “Batchelor of Science – Honours, Psychology Major,” written in silly, 19th century style calligraphy. Although I am obtaining a degree in psychology, it is science itself that really fascinates me. I am driven to understand the world around me and to incorporate every revealed fact into my everyday life. Psychology may not be as hard a science as, say, physics, but that’s no reason to belittle the field. Rather, the quality of softness should itself be seen by scientists everywhere as an open invitation – a niche – for real, quantifiable science to one day grow and thrive. All psychology needs to bring this about is a full-blown, theory-shattering psychological revolution.

In his day, Einstein, himself a devout agnostic, revolutionized the study of physics – tearing apart our previous understanding of the nature of time, space, and the heavens – changing yet again the way we see our place in the world. And yet, when trying to describe the Universe’s breathtaking splendor as he had come to understand it, it seems as though the very best word that Einstein could come up with is the utterly nonscientific noun, God.

I’m quiet for only a moment. And then, aloud, I declare “some day, if I ever revolutionize the field of psychology the way that Einstein revolutionized physics, I’m going to use the world soul a lot.”

The corner of my girlfriend’s smile developed an amusingly incredulous twist. “Why can’t you just make up a new word that means the same thing? Why do you need to use a religious word?”

“Why shouldn’t I?” I replied. “I’m pretty sure that if God existed he would have been pleased with how Einstein used his name.” I shrugged. “I think that God would approve of my use of the word soul for the same reasons.”

She sat up a little straighter, clearly willing to bring the conversation to a deeper level. “What do you mean when you say soul?”

After completing no less than five (or six?) years of modern 21st century post-secondary science education, I understand that this challenge deserves a thoughtful reply. Science has no room for words like soul.

“Essentially, I suppose I mean the same thing that anyone else means when they say it,” I said, settling into my seat.

I hold a heartfelt reverence for science. I believe that, like a candle in the dark, the job of science is to ward off the shadow of human ignorance long enough for us to at least see where we’ve been headed. And, despite what many people suspect, science is itself totally incapable of even partially diminishing the divine elegance of our great universe. In fact, every scientific achievement to date has only extended the beauty of the universe. Each time a scientific revolution takes place, mankind is, again and again, humbled beyond any level previously conceived of. Every time, the world becomes more unknowable and ever more wonderful. This effect of science should be self-evident to anyone studying the history of mankind. If you do not see this, then you have been unknowingly blinded by an oppressive worldview – you are living in the shadow of human ignorance.

I turned to face her. Looking into her starlit eyes, I said “when I talk about the soul, I suppose that I’m actually talking about that special, hidden quality that makes human thought and behavior so beautiful that every time one tries to understand the mind, one’s breath is taken away. I’m talking about the same beauty that Einstein saw hidden within the elegance of our Universe.”

I paused. “Of course, psychology will never be able to explain everything about human beings, but one thing is certain…”

I was playing with her hair – how is it that, using only her eyes, this girl makes me feel so special? We live in a wonderful and beautiful world, indeed. We must keep learning about it! Every time we learn something new, our world becomes increasingly wonderful. If the old word “God” does not in fact refer to the hidden, driving system that underlies our great, expanding Universe – the single great cause of every perceivable wonder – then I am happy to appropriate it in the fashion of the great Einstein himself.

“As we gradually learn more about human behavior, our minds will surely become all the more astonishing and wonderful to us. The wonder will grow with every discovery we make. The beauty within the human mind will increase forever… we will never run out of questions to ask. What word can you think of that is best suited to describe this special quality of human behavior?”

“The soul,” She said sweetly. “Let’s call it the soul.”

I kissed her and squeezed her and felt her heart beat in rhythm with mine. “I’ll keep your soul well fed,” I whispered.

“My soul prefers only your laughter and only your love.”

“Everyone has their tastes.”

“Mine is very particular then.” She leaned close and rested her forehead between my neck and my shoulder.

Carefully adjusting the position of my head and applying just enough pressure with the muscles in my neck, I maximized the amount of contact that my body could make with hers.

“You’re very pretty tonight,” I said.

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3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

I still like this. Of course I do. You changed the words a little in this one though.

Comment by Jen

Yes. I asked Kristyn Stiltbreaker what she thought of the short story, and her only suggestion was to fix up the (obvious) tense and 1st/3rd person inconsistencies – especially in the first paragraph.

Well, I tried to do that but realized that using a consistent tense just isn’t my style. It was too difficult. But I did adjust some of the sentences in the first paragraph anyways. I hope you like it.

And I just couldn’t help citing a few sources while I was at it. Those links are pretty good reads.

Note: Einstein truly defies labels – especially regarding religion. I personally feel like “devout agnostic” is the best label one can give him. Anyways, I don’t expect anyone to be offended by this story.

Comment by Boehr Himself

I often do the same thing with tenses. It didn’t bother me. Also didn’t notice the person slip ups.

Of course you couldn’t help citing sources, you’re Brendan.

Also, why is there an ugly red design thing as my picture? I didn’t do that, and I don’t know how to change it.

Comment by Jen




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