Frownies (1,254)

August 30th, 2011

Harriet loved to hate. Or maybe it was that she hated to love. Well, perhaps both of those are erroneous. Maybe it’s that Harriet knew who and what she loved—and hated everything else.

My mother and father made me call her “aunt,” even though she was actually no relation to us. She lived on the main street of our town in a lovely home, secure in the finance of a pension and peered out of her windows at passing life, scrutinizing and separating the “good apples from the bad apples.” She occasionally emerged to walk the streets with her cane, bestowing her presence and wisdom.

Harriet didn’t like me. I broke all of Harriet’s rules—and when I did, she frowned at me. I know it may sound a bit silly, but a frown may be one of the most vicious expressions of both disapproval and rejection that one human being can impart to another. Not only is a frown a facial presentation, but it also connotes that there is great anguish, sadness and dissatisfaction lying beneath. Yes, a frown is the tip of the iceberg of even greater chilliness.

Harriet frowned at me a lot.

I was too loud—and she thought loud was bad.

My hair actually touched my ears—which, in her assessment, was just short of the abomination of desolation.

I went to Columbus and interacted with black people—which she found inappropriate. (Matter of face, Harriet frowned at a black man and a white woman who were dating in our community. This was obviously bad for two reasons: the races shouldn’t mix and, in Harriet’s world, sex was bad.)

For a season I even tried to learn Harriet’s commandments so that I might avoid her scathing glance. But it seemed to me that the litany of taboos was ever-increasing, and try as I might, I could never get her approval. So I began to avoid her—but seemed to run into her at least once a week. Looking back now, I realize that she was actually seeking me out because she knew that her opinion of value to me, and therefore she wielded some power in my life.

Harriet just loved to frown. There were a lot of frownies in my hometown when I was growing up. They were so sure they were right. It seemed they would gossip about most everything under the sun—until one of their own children or grandchildren sprouted that particular iniquity. Then the problem, rather than being sinful, became either a condition or a disease. For instance, Harriet had a grandson who ended up being gay, so her mindset changed from believing that the homosexual was human kindling for the fires of hell to “Little Richie has a different lifestyle—and he’s working on it.”

I never knew what that meant. Why? Because Harriet didn’t know what it meant. It was just a safe way to internally frown while externally contending that her grandson was not a freak.

Frownies—they’re everywhere. I see them on Sunday mornings in churches. I wonder why these people have actually taken the time to dress up and spray some Right Guard under their arm pits, to show up at a place that actually makes them miserable. I see frownies in department stores when people of different sizes, shapes and colors walk by. They scrunch their faces to let everyone know that something abhorrent has transpired.

I occasionally even catch myself, in moments of deliberation, accidentally re-creating that expression on my own countenance, and I lurch back in horror at the fear that someone may actually have observed it. I don’t ever want to frown at you, my friend. You deserve better. Even if I’m afflicted by a passing flu, a common cold, an aching head or an upset stomach, it’s best for me to escape into my cave of recovery and not subject you to my crinkled brow.

Human beings deserve better than frowns. Frownies are children who never grew up, who express their inadequacies over their own abilities by trying to devastate the confidence of others.

My journey has allowed me to stand in front of tens of thousands of high school students, hundreds of thousands of people in church congregations, and even share my life in the presence of murderers and rapists in prisons. Here’s what I know: a frown is useless. No one required one—not even those who are frowners themselves.

So I am always cautious when I feel a bit of self-righteousness trying to sneak into my soul—to blink three times, allowing my eyes to soften and my gaze to lower, which amazingly enough, causes the corners of my mouth to naturally curl up instead of down.

It’s true, you know—you should try it. The next time you behold someone or something that rattles your cage, simply blink three times to soften your peepers and your mouth will follow suit by producing a more neutral expression instead of a notorious frown.

Harriet died. Until today, I have never thought about her, wondered about her or remembered anything of significance concerning her time on earth. I realize I can only share about this woman as a bad example—an object lesson. I hope wherever she is, she is not offended by these words, but rather, understands that it is a necessary tale to be told—to warn others of the dangers of frowning.


Not nearly as sweet as brownies—but equally as dangerous to the human heart.

Published in: on August 30, 2011 at 12:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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