Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Words Matter

I love words. I love reading them, I love writing them, I love speaking them. They inspire, belittle; heal, wound. Yet almost everyday I hear someone say, "It's just words. They don't matter.

"What if someone said, "Being of sound mind I bequeath..." "With this ring..." "And the winner is..." Or what if they said, "I want a divorce!" "I don't know how to break this to you..." "You only have months to live..." All of a sudden words take on a whole new meaning and significance. I was in my 30's when I first learned this. It was a fleeting exchange but one that changed my life irrevocably and became a life lesson that I've practiced.

I worked for a particular life insurance company in the Boston, Massachusetts, area. Management positions were male dominated; women were clerks or administrative assistants. We were also supposed to be pretty and ladylike and almost subservient, though there were a brave few who were striving to break the gender bias (in a pretty and ladylike way of course).

As is wont in many office settings, there are women who always organized birthday parties for staff, and this office was no exception. On this particular occasion were were celebrating our supervisor's birthday. Someone had brought in a camera and was snapping and clicking pictures of everyone. That is, until she came to me.

I declined the photo op. Period. My body language made it clear there would be no further discussion. Nonplussed, the photographer turned her attention to the lady who was sitting beside me. Her name was Marion. Now as I mentioned, most of the ladies were quite fashionable and outgoing, taking great pride and time their in primping. Marion, however, was different. Her skirts were too long; so was her greying, kinky hair (considering she was middle age and all, some noted), and to compound it all, she really just didn't have much to say. She politely allowed her picture to be taken and the offending camera and photographer were gone.

Marion waited a moment and then she gave me an inquisitive, sloe-eyed look, and asked me in a whisper, "Why didn't you want your picture taken?"

I was still feeling edgy and high strung and gave her a brutally honest answer. "Because I think I'm ugly. I look like a troll in pictures." I immediately regretted the bluntness of my response but it was too late to think about it and take it back.

Marion's lips were not smiling, but her eyes were filled with a womanly compassion and wisdom that shone. She sat boldly upright, steeled with fire and conviction, and her words flowed firm and steady. "I don't know who told you that and you believed them, but they have lied to you. You are beautiful!"

And that's when it happened. I felt a dark veil lift from my heart; my spirit shifted. I saw myself in a new light, and more powerful than that, I felt a deep healing of a pain that I did not even know that I had. Those twenty words resonated right down to the cellular level. Me? Beautiful?

I never did thank Marion for her compassion and encouragement. I pray that someday she will know what a wondrous gift she gave me. And now because of her, when I see the opportunity, I, too, speak twenty words of compassion and encouragement.

You just never know where a person is at in their life and what a difference your words can make.Are you listening with your heart? Is there someone you know who may need your twenty words?

Do you know how beautiful you really are?

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