Why Mariachi Bands Make Me Smile

By Suzanne Wiggins

For the most part, I’m a happy and contented person. On occasion, however, I can feel extremely blue. It’s relatively easy these days to overcome my feelings of glum by acknowledging that I have the ability to alter my perspective and choose to be positive. This was not the case when I was young.

When I was 19 and a sophomore in college I didn’t possess the skills I do now. One day I was in a real funk so I decided to take a walk across campus. The weather probably contributed to my sense of gloom since it was one of those days when winter begins to pass into spring, crunchy, half-melted snow piles dot the curbside, and you have to make your best guess at whether to wear a light coat or a warm jacket.

I had been walking along, head down, deep in thought, without direction or intent for more than an hour when something made its way into my consciousness. Looking up I noticed a large procession headed toward me on the sidewalk. Not completely having my wits about me, I stepped aside and stood waiting for the parade of people to pass.

The slow strolling group was being led by a Mariachi band. As they passed, one of the musicians warmly smiled and motioned for me to come along. I was caught off guard by the gesture and looked over my shoulder and to each side to see if he might be communicating to someone else. I looked back to him and he motioned me forward once again. I started walking along, but to be honest, I’m not sure how conscious my decision to join the group had been. Perhaps I was curious since the whole situation seemed a bit absurd.

The procession leisurely strolled two blocks to the University Center and then filed into the main ballroom. The Mariachi band had moved to the front of the room and continued playing. I was shyly standing at the door not knowing what to do. While contemplating my options I noticed the friendly musician again wave an invitation to come in and join along. I felt a bit conspicuous since I wasn’t dressed for the occasion. It was Saturday after all, and I was still wearing the sweat pants I had worn as pajamas the night before.

In my youthful fear of not fitting in, feeling awkward, and avoiding discomfort I chose not to go in. I did, however, find a comfortable place to sit and wait. I realized I was no longer feeling blue or upset over whatever had been said or done earlier. I felt better and wanted to find an opportunity to say thank you and let the musician know how much his gesture had meant. After a while I quietly walked back to the ballroom doors. Everyone was seated and there was someone at the podium speaking. I looked across the room searching for the colorful clothing and large hats worn by the band members, but they were nowhere to be seen. Finally I assumed they had packed their instruments at the end of their performance and left from one of the exit doors at  the front of the room.

Disappointed by the lost opportunity, I walked back to my dorm. I didn’t mention what had happened to anyone, but I enjoyed thinking about what a preposterous story it would be to tell…how a group of adults who were obviously not university students were strolling the sidewalks of campus led by a Mariachi band and how without speaking a single word, a gracious gentleman changed my disposition simply by taking note of my existence.

All too often we are unaware of the world and people around us, caught up in the details of our busy schedule, the stresses of work and family, and the constant distractions provided by our phones and electronic devices. For me, I have found that long distance bike rides are a great way to reconnect with life, nature and the small, but important things around us. Last spring as I was riding along the trail I cheerfully said ‘good morning’ to an elderly man as I passed by. He was so caught off guard by my greeting he had difficulty finding his voice. When he did speak he did not return the sentiment, but said ‘thank you’ in such a sincere tone it made me think it wasn’t often he heard a friendly hello. As I continued riding, I thought about how taking just a few seconds to acknowledge that man had meant so much to him. Suddenly it occurred to me that I knew exactly what kind of positive effect a small gesture from a stranger could have. I remembered that Mariachi band, smiled happily and said ‘thank you’ in hopes that the wind would carry my message wherever it needed to go.

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.  ~Leo Buscaglia

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