OP-ED: Recognizing the people who put a smile on my face

Ann McFeatters
Tribune News Service
Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg speaks at the climate march during the COP25 U.N. Climate Conference 2019. Thunberg is the youngest ever Time Person of the Year. (Clara Margais/DPA/Abaca Press/TNS)

This is definitely the time of year when we need fewer frowns and more smiles.

Here is my shortened list of people who make me smile.

John Legend, the composer, musician and singer, makes me smile. He is from my hometown of Springfield, Ohio, and he continues to “give back” with free concerts, unhailed good deeds and a beautiful performing arts theater. My best friend from kindergarten, Jeannine, who supervised his homeschooling as a school administrator, said he remains one of the brightest and politest students she ever encountered. Oh, and by the way, People magazine just named him the sexiest man alive.

Lin Manuel Miranda, the brilliant composer, lyricist, star and writer of “Hamilton” and a breathtakingly good performer, puts a wide grin on my face. Actually, have you ever seen him when he’s not smiling? He almost made us forget Dick Van Dyke when he played the chimney sweep in “Mary Poppins Returns.” And, by the way, he wrote a secret song for the new and final Star Wars movie. He’s not even quite 40, which means he will be sparking joy in us for many years.

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Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who inspired millions of people to stage a demonstration in favor of fighting global climate change, is rarely seen smiling, but she raises the corners of my mouth in hope. Her signature thought, that we can’t just keep living as though there is no tomorrow because there is a tomorrow, is simple but profound. She has been ridiculed by the most powerful person in the world, yet she sticks to her message that climate change will irrevocably damage our world if we don’t act. And, by the way, she is Time magazine’s Person of the Year.

A few days ago, I was mugged at Baltimore/Washington International Airport and my phone was stolen. I was shaken but OK, just mourning the lack of that all-important cellphone. A uniquely thoughtful Uber driver, Boualem Nabti, an immigrant from Algeria, saw my distress and gave me refuge in his pristine car (complete with a box of chocolates in the back seat). We chatted for more than a half-hour as I vented and then relaxed as he drove me to a very important family event. I smile when I think of your kindness, Mr. Nabti, and I wish you every happiness.

I smile when I think of all the parents around the world, from the most affluent to the poorest, who have sacrificed, planned, schemed and dreamed to give their children the most magical experience they can at this holiday season. And I positively beam when I think of an 8-year-old named Dale and a 5-year-old named Andrew, who laugh and play intensely, are learning so quickly and have tried so hard to be good for the past few weeks.

When you start thinking about it, we all do smile more than we glower as we go about our daily business. Again at another airport in Washington, D.C., just hours ago, a horde of fellow travelers waited more than four hours to board a late flight. After a few rounds of complaining, they started trading stories about favorite Christmases and where they were headed and what they would do when they got there. Soon they were laughing and joking. And smiling.

Let’s do it. Let’s resolve to smile more in 2020.

— Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may send her email at