A few years ago I began to notice people's smiles more carefully. There are the average smiles: occasional but reserved. There's the flirt smile, for your eyes only. The awkward or nervous smile, the cocky and shallow, the goofy, the shy, the sarcastic, the psycho, the horny, the sensual, the hearty, and even the broken-hearty. You know the one... those times when tears leak from your eyes, but something manages to reach in to your heart and steal a warm feeling. So yes, there's a plethora of emojis for every smile. But then it came to me in one of those a-ha! moments: there’s a smile that matters most than any of the others, some people call it the killer smile.
I was fortunate to know Brian McMahon during the last year of his life. When I first met him, I couldn't help but notice how his face lit up upon shaking hands. It's a presence and respect he offered you instantly, without knowing anything about you. Most of us offer up a smile when we first meet someone, but it's a guarded one. Some people add an extra effort smile, which may or may not necessarily come from the heart. As a salesman myself, I know all about the extra smile. But if life has taught me anything, it's that nothing good comes from faking. Brian was anything but fake. He wasn't trying to buy you, or sell you anything you didn't need. His smile transcended the supply and demand transaction: Brian owned the killer smile.
We spent many evenings talking, philosophizing, debating, arguing, even agreeing to disagree on some things. But through every subject, his killer smile was disarming. I felt the power of honesty in that smile. I felt his refreshing sincerity, his hunger for truth.
Brian brought his killer smile to the tennis courts. Over fifty-two weeks, from summer to summer, we played over a hundred times. Every time he would walk into the courts with his power smile, and I could already feel his advantage imposing itself before the first pop from a new can of balls. It wasn't merely confidence, something most people learn to fake. It was presence. It was respect, it was hunger. It was a love of life flowing into his racquet, which might as well had been a light saber.
During his last month, Brian had somehow managed to transform his tennis game to a new high. His serves were focused and powerful. His topspin was almost flawless, and his net game felt like a tsunami. He unassumingly took my game to a new low, as he witnessed my racquet-maiming dramatics with his signature smile. He knew I was battling demons, something I sensed he had conquered better than me so far. Of course he was human, if he weren’t I wouldn’t had been interested in his friendship. No disrespect to aliens, though he more than once wondered if I was one of them. No, I more than sensed he was quite a few steps ahead of me in that battle of the demons we all fight. I knew not just from our chats, but from the way he performed on the courts. Like in most sports, your state of mind in tennis can be just as important as your physical condition. So either way, his smile told me he understood. I like to think it told me I would also understand one day.
The last time I saw Brian, he walked out of our own "Centre Court" for what turned out to be his final time. I still play it in my mind in slow motion: his strong build, six foot plus commanding height, understated shorts and shirt, a working man's tennis player. His signature cooler on wheels faithfully rolling next to him, he opened the door of the courts, turned around, and flashed his killer smile towards me for the last time. It's a smile I will never forget, one I will spend the rest of my life trying to make my own.
Thank you for spending a good part of your last year on earth with me BMac. I'm sure by now you know how much I admired you, and love you like a brother. One day soon, I hope to be the one with that killer smile, signing off with his classic goodbye:
"Peace, Love, and Power."
A Musical Tribute to Brian