“Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.” ~ Buddha.
Last month I participated in a daily challenge. The challenge was daily, my participation was more sporadic. We were given a prompt to write a poem. One day the prompt was to think of something someone had said to us as a child that had stayed with us. This week that prompt crossed my mind, and I started to think about all the people, the words, the phrases, the conversations that had been so meaningful that not only did they stay with me, I often used them to comfort, console, or inspire others.
When I was in nursing school I was lucky enough to make a very good friend, one who absorbed me into her large family. Being away from my parents (they were in Jamaica, I was in England), she took me home to spend long weekends with her. Her father was a plain spoken, simple (complicated) man. He had left school early to help his family, and worked hard all his life. One evening, in response to something (forgettable) that I had said, he replied: “It’s a bit like beating up your head against a brick wall. It does feel good when you stop.” That hit me like the brick wall he described. How often had I done that? How often do others do that? I have used that advice to so many people who have developed patterns of beating themselves up for not being perfect, for not being farther along their journey than they should be, for not having control over the uncontrollable. It does feel good when you stop.
Then there were some words of advice I heard my mother give to my sister when I was eavesdropping on their conversation. My sister was very upset with her husband-to-be who had done something she felt was inconsiderate. “Get used to it” said my mother, “but don’t think he’s going to change. You either accept that this is who he is, or don’t marry him. But you will not change him.” It was years before I realized that I had missed applying the lesson to my own life!
My father had many words of wisdom, and was often sought out in his life as minister, teacher, counselor, therapist. The words I quoted just this week continue to resonate: “’Tis better to travel joyfully, than to arrive.” I don’t know who said it first, but it spoke to mindfulness before mindfulness was a thing. Racing through life waiting for ‘one of these days’, and ‘when I get through this’ or ‘I can’t wait for the weekend’, misses the joy that can be found in the here and now. Perhaps my father was a Buddhist after all!
My husband, who was many things, once said something that stuck with me. I was agonizing about a what if situation. What if I don’t pass my RN boards? His response was ‘what if you do? And you’ve wasted all this time worrying about it. You could be having fun instead!’ Like most of these good words of advice, it is often easier to say them than put them into practice. But it does help to remind us that bad stuff or good stuff is going to happen, you can either spend uncomfortable, sleepless nights anticipating bad outcomes, or you can save your energy so that if the worst does happens, you can survive it!
When I decided to go back to school after thirty years, one of the best first classes I took was an introduction to the ‘nurse as a scholar’. Most of the students were like me, working mothers who had put everyone else through school before going back for that validation of a degree, and we had no idea how to write a paper ‘APA style’. Some didn’t even know how to ‘copy/paste’! We had to learn how to create discussion board postings, how to cite sources properly, how to set up headers and footers. My mother would have loved it, with her secretarial background. But for us there were a bunch of ‘why’s. Eventually the Professor told us straight: “It is what it is”. That phrase, though harsh, helps you to take a breath and realize there are some things you have no control over, so why fight them? You don’t know how many times I have told that to frustrated students, who want the world to be other than it is. It is what it is.
As I moved into a new role some years ago, my then boss once responded to a question by saying: “You know, it is better to ask for forgiveness than permission” and I opened my eyes wide and turned around. I had not heard that one before, and it has helped me out many times since then!
When I was in my early teens, I was spending some time with an aunt of mine, and for some reason she decided to share a story with me, of her own life. Her first pregnancy had ended in a still birth, which she had never told the children who followed. At thirteen (like most teens), I had strong opinions that hadn’t been shaded by the realities and complexities of life. And so I told her she should share that with her kids (who were older than me). I don’t know if she ever did. Ironically, many years later, my siblings and I learned that our mother had also lost a child born prematurely, and the only reason we knew was because a cousin of hers had inadvertently asked a question about the baby boy that died. Sometimes it is words not spoken that have the impact.
There was a time when I was in a quandary, not knowing whether to do this or that. When I confided in my best friend, she told me something that empowered me. She said, ‘doing nothing is a choice too’, and that was another of those thoughts that stopped me in my tracks. I was in control, even if I chose to do nothing.
For those who read my blog, I wonder what words have impacted you? And who have you impacted? There are times someone will remind me of something I said that stayed with them, and I will wonder, did I really say that?
On this Friday morning, I hope you have those words that live with you, that come back to you when you need them. And I hope that you can pay it forward, to be that still small voice that comforts another; that pushes someone through to clarity; that steers someone straight. And if you can’t do that, may you be the one who just listens and holds space for someone who needs it.
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!