As time passes, all kinds of things change. In my experience, there has been one constant that has made all the difference.For Robert Frost, it was the road less traveled. For me, it is the resplendent smile I first beheld on the face of a really pretty girl sitting across the room from me in the 11th grade on the first day of a new school year.Some years ago, I shared on these pages that my family had relocated smack in the middle of my high school years and how that profoundly shaped my life. I was the new guy among a bunch of students who had been classmates since first grade.My newcomer status wasn’t really a big concern to me. I thought it would be cool to meet new friends, especially the girls. I imagined myself attracting the attention of a variety of them in due course, and that was something promising to anticipate.But this girl was not just one among many; there was something she had no one else could match. At first I wasn’t sure it was me she was favoring with that amazing smile. We had not even met.I checked others around me, didn’t see anyone else looking in her direction, so my eyes returned to her and there it was. It made her face luminescent and unforgettable.My memory of how I wrangled our first date is a bit cloudy, but the occasion itself is crystal clear. We went for a drive beyond the city on a Sunday afternoon. The countryside was scenic, but most of all I adored her smile.So did everyone else. Whenever I was with her just walking down the hallway to the next class or anywhere among others, I looked better because I was with her.We both dated others during those couple of years but I never benefited from the reflected radiance of any other girl as I did when she was with me.In our senior year, the time rolled around for student government day and that meant someone would be elected to represent our school as mayor for a day at City Hall along with the real mayor.She suggested I should become a candidate. But I balked. I was less known, and a banker’s popular son had already signed up for the race. “I’ll help you,” she said. That’s all it took. I was the one in the suit and tie at City Hall sitting at the mayor’s desk that year.Although there were no plans for it then or throughout our college days, I’ve been in public life for almost all my adult years. In such capacities, I have found myself in front of audiences large and small addressing all manner of public concerns and issues.Often I would worry if I was handling the occasion with the right words or if I looked like I belonged there. Never did such thoughts cross my mind for long if that girl and her beautiful smile were present to confirm I was doing just fine.In fact, she’s how I obtained those public offices in the first place. The tentative vibes I would get from some when considering my appeal for their support would all become entirely positive if she was by my side. No one can resist that smile.Monday marks the 50th anniversary of our journey together that began that day when the pastor of our church, in front of family and friends, asked her if she would love me forever. She said she would. Then she turned her eyes to me and smiled.
Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency. firstname.lastname@example.org