What’s the longest word in the English language? Smiles. There are only six letters, but there’s a “mile” between the first and the last!
The first thought that comes to my mind when I hear the word “smile” associated with wine is: “Of course. Wine makes me smile.” But that makes for a pretty short blog post. Instead, I’m going to step outside my comfort zone, and try a little creative writing.
Steve had it all. He was the high school football quarterback, homecoming king, and just to complete the cliché, he dated the head cheerleader. With straight A’s and a league football championship his senior year, he received a full-ride scholarship to the prestigious university of your choice. Steve was no slouch.
After college, Steve accepted a position at a major investment firm, and was quickly working his way up the ladder, earning a fat paycheck plus commissions. Yes, he married his high school sweetheart, the cheerleader, and they started a family. Steve’s life was picture perfect, and his future looked bright.
One year, his company holiday party was held at a local winery. Steve had never been a wine drinker. Sure, he’d had a glass from time to time, but never really got into it. In fact, he had never been much of a drinker at all, preferring to focus on his personal goals and lifetime achievements. He felt that drinking could become a distraction, and he would lose his focus. Still, the winemaker herself was at the party, pouring her best wines. Steve enjoyed a few minutes chatting with the winemaker, but asserted that common argument: “wine gives me headaches.” The winemaker assured Steve he would not get a headache from her wine. He agreed to give it a try, and she poured him a glass. At the first sip, a smile emerged on Steve’s face. This wine was delicious! Steve had a hard time describing it, but he knew it was different, and better than any wine he’d had. He was hooked immediately.
With a fresh appreciation for the wonders of a finely crafted wine, Steve started a small collection. He began exploring varietals, regions, and styles. He joined clubs, and went wine tasting with his wife on the weekends. Pretty soon, Steve found himself planning vacations around wine regions, and he enjoyed exploring the beautiful landscapes of Bordeaux and Burgundy, Tuscany, Alsace, Rioja, and others. Over the years, Steve tasted hundreds of wines from regions the world over. He loved to share his love of wine, hosting dinner parties, and donating bottles to charity auctions. Whenever a friend or family member needed a wine recommendation, Steve got the call.
Then one fateful day, Steve’s phone rang. It was bad news. Cancer. Steve’s mom had been his biggest supporter; driving him to practices, mending his torn uniforms, tutoring him on those hard subjects. She was there for the good times and the bad. Now she needed him. Even those whose lives appear perfect from the outside can suffer life-changing tragedies. Our lives can change in an instant with a phone call or conversation. Steve’s world was rocked to the foundation. Cancer is something that happens to other people, not Steve and his mom. But it did happen; is happening. Steve was comfortably well-off, but cancer doesn’t discriminate between rich or poor. You can’t buy your way out of this.
Steve caught the next flight home and went to stay with his mom. The prognosis was not good. The cancer had spread quickly and by the time the doctors caught it, it was too far gone. They gave her only 30 days. Steve was with her for the duration. He drove her to doctor’s appointments, and helped arrange for the best hospice care in the area. In the end it was peaceful, surrounded by loved ones.
Steve returned home a changed man. The grief and pain had sucked the life and joy out of him. He found it difficult to smile at much of anything. He was a strong man; a survivor; so he knew intellectually that he would eventually heal. But at times, the emotional pain was crushing. Even his passion for wine waned. He’d still have a glass or two with dinner, but it wasn’t the same. He was careful with his drinking, because he knew that self-medicating his pain could be dangerous, so he regulated his consumption. Weeks passed, then months, and slowly the hurting became less intense, and he knew he was starting to heal.
A few weeks later, Steve was working late. The custodian, Jeff, came into Steve’s office to clean. Steve had worked late often enough that he knew Jeff, but they had never talked beyond pleasantries. Still, something in Jeff’s demeanor told Steve something was wrong. Steve inquired, and Jeff confided that his father had just passed away. Instantly, corner-office Steve and custodian Jeff were on level ground. A friendship was born out of mutual heartache and pain. Through Steve’s friendship and caring, Jeff walked through his grief and was soon feeling like his old self. But the friendship didn’t end with the end of the crisis. Steve and Jeff remained committed friends, and their families became inseparable.
On a bright, clear Saturday morning some weeks later, Steve took Jeff winetasting. They spent the day exploring the local wine region, tasting wine and enjoying the peaceful beauty of the vineyards. That evening, Steve cooked dinner for the two families, and opened a bottle of his favorite wine. It was a perfect ending to a perfect day. As they savored the meal and wine, Steve, Jeff, and their wives all shared happy, contented smiles.
And they lived happily ever after.
This is a work of fiction. The characters and events are made up. Except for the part about the holiday party when Steve first discovers quality wine. That really happened, and is how I got started on my wine journey. Nevertheless, although fictional, the emotions and feelings are real. When going through a rough time, stay focused on the things that are really important in life. Even in times of tragedy and pain, if you look for them, you can find things that can, from the depths, evoke a genuine smile.
This post has been therapeutic for me. Although not death, cancer, or any other illness, I have been walking through a very difficult time, and have had difficulty finding smiles. Writing this fictional story has helped me to realize the truth underlined above. If you are going through a painful time, my hope is that my words are helpful to you, and that you, too, can find a smile.