Sunday, January 8, 2017

“Some people have a way with words, and other people...oh, uh, not have way.” ― Steve Martin

30 Day Writing Challenge

Write about the power of words.

Mom slapped my face when I said it. “So.” She was slicking my hair into a ponytail when my sister walked in and said something taunting like “I don’t have to have my hair done today,” and I replied, “So.” Mom quickly slapped my face saying, “We don’t say, ‘so’.” She didn’t say why and I didn’t ask. I just put that word in my mental bin with other words we didn’t say like “ain’t” and “shut-up.”

While my mother slapped to correct our speech, Grandma Erma bribed. When she came to visit, she’d listen to our speech for a few days and then with a shake of her head cry a high-pitched, “Help!” then gather baby food jars and coins. Each member of the family received five to ten nickels in a jar with his name written on it. The jars were lined up in a neat row on the cupboard and if Grandma heard you say something inappropriate like “dang,” “wash (with an ‘r’), or “so,” she took a nickel from your jar and put it in her pocket.

Though the slang words have changed today, the need for compassionate words has not, and I’m thankful to both women for teaching me to mind my words. Kind words lift and build, unkind words tear and destroy.

I love this story of Elizabeth Byrd, an American writer. Several years ago she traveled to Scotland and recalled a “big rawboned farm woman” traveling beside her on the bus. The farm woman asked Elizabeth why an American should be traveling north in the middle of winter, because “it’s rooky weather in the Highlands.”

“Elizabeth said, ‘I explained that I liked wild weather and that I was gathering material for a historical novel, talking to country people, soaking up sheeplore and folkways that have changed little in four centuries.’

“The Scottish woman invited me to visit her overnight. ‘We’ve a wee croft, but warm, and I’d welcome your company, for my husband’s off to market.’

“It was raining hard when we reached her home, a dumpy stone cottage on a bleak slope. Collies welcomed us and Mrs. McIntosh led me into a spotless, shabby parlor.

“Suddenly the lights flickered and died. She sighed, ‘The power’s oot,’ and lit candles. While she was making a fire there was a knock on the door.

“She opened it and a boy came in. She took his dripping coat and cap, and as he moved into the firelight I saw that he was about 12 years old—and pitifully crippled.

“After he caught his breath, he said, ‘My father tried to ring you, but your phone is dead. I came to see that you’re all right.’

“’Thank you, John,’ she said, and introduced us. The wind rose, raving and screaming, battering the shutters. I told them how much I loved the drama of the storm.

“’You’re not scared?’ John asked. I started to say no, but Mrs. McIntosh, though obviously afraid of nothing, quickly said what any boy longs to hear, ‘Of course she was scared, and so was I. But now we’ve got a mon aboot.’

“There was a moment’s silence.

“Then he rose. ‘I’ll see that everything’s snug,’ he said. And he hobbled out with a little swagger.

“Weeks later the incident still haunted me. Why hadn’t I answered his question as Mrs. McIntosh had—tenderly, imaginatively?

“By what magic had Mrs. McIntosh transformed a crippled boy into a confident man?” (Behold Your Little Ones, edited by Barbara B. Smith and Shirley W. Thomas, pg. 52-53)

The challenge to improve society’s language is daunting, but doable, one home at a time. I remember the story of a conquering country that swallowed a smaller neighboring country. The new ruler demanded that only his native language be spoken and anyone caught speaking the mother language of the little country would be put to death. As time passed, the ruler was very pleased for only his native tongue was spoken in the schools and marketplaces. Years later, when yet another country conquered the little country; the people reverted back to their original language. The conqueror’s wondered how. They discovered the mothers had continued to teach their native tongue to their children in their homes and the influence of those mothers was irreversible.

Whether through a quick slap or taking nickels, a mother can make it known that she expects her children to say something nice or nothing at all. A woman’s influence can shape the words of a home, community and ultimately, nation.

Jude 1:22  "And some have compassion, making a difference."

1 comment:

Going bananas said...

I love these thoughts on the power of a kind word. There are times when I can't relate to a person's situation, but this reminds me I can always speak with love and kindness.