The simplest gifts are often the ones that are overlooked.

I was recently diagnosed with Bellís palsy. Half my face is basically paralyzed. Itís caused by trauma to the seventh 

cranial nerve; recovery can take weeks, months or years.

I didn't think something was wrong when I had a swig from a water bottle and ended up with water down my shirt instead of in my mouth. I have a tendency to spill, so I brushed it off as being clumsy.

I didnít think anything of it when I bit my cheek chewing gum or when I got shampoo in my eye in the shower or when my eye continued to tear as I put on makeup. What I did notice was a horrible deformity when I looked in the mirror to apply lipstick. My left lip wouldnít move. My right lip curled up in a perfectly shaped, beaming, beautiful smile. The left side hung limp. It drooped down like a flower that had been left in the summer heat.

For the 99.98 percent of the population that will never be afflicted with Bellís palsy, let me tell you, the effects are devastating. Self-esteem is thrown out the window. Imagine waking up one day and not being able to eat properly, talk properly, drink without dribbling or dazzle those pearly whites.

The most traumatic effects for me are psychological. Whatís the one feature you really like about yourself? For me, itís my smile.

I love to smile! I love seeing a babyís face light up into a toothless grin. I love smiling at friends and coworkers and having them smile back, knowing the day is going to be a good one. I love how my Grandmaís eyes squint into a black line as she smiles and wraps her arms around me.

Smiling at strangers is fun, too, because itís natural to smile back and you know in some way, you have just made their day a little better. One smile can set off a chain reaction that could reach across the state.

A genuine smile is the best gift I believe we can give anyone Ė ever! Itís even free and thereís an endless supply.

Since the onset of Bellís palsy, Iíve been stingy with my smiles. Iím embarrassed by my droopy left lip and crooked smile. I still have a hard time looking people in the eye because unfortunately, when my smile left, it took a big chunk of self-esteem, too. But any smile is a precious gift. Regardless of itís shape, size or symmetry.

Each day we have the opportunity to give countless wonderful gifts; each one automatically produces another and another. Give someone the gift of your smile today; it will come back to you again and again and again.

Melisa Uchida can be reached at