It was a typical end-of-the-year school play. I, like all the other mothers of this third grade class, dutifully arrived at the school auditorium, prepared to feel awash with gratified pride. Our lips were pursed to smile unabashedly with delight, our cameras set to flash endless pictures of our young daughters’ performance.
We zealously arrived early, to snap up a coveted front-row seat, to snatch a first-hand glimpse of our daughters and to send confidence-building winks and smiles their way, to allay any lingering pre-play stage fright.
As a grandmother of one of my daughter’s friends, you were there too, to share in this moment of joy. You were circulating around the room, passing by each row and extending a welcoming greeting. A smile passed over each face after you shared some pleasant or witty word of kindness.
I sat impatiently awaiting the play to commence, as I observed you finding something to say to so many people. Watching as you stopped by each and every chair, I surmised you must have many friends and are acquainted with many people.
Then you reached my chair. I didn’t expect you to pause at all. After all, we don’t really know each other and only meet infrequently on these rare school occasions.
So I was surprised that you did stop right in front of me. You made direct eye contact and you politely exchanged some perfunctory comments. I was waiting for you to move on to someone you knew better, but instead you took an extra moment to find a point in common with me -- me, a young mother and you, a seasoned grandmother. You said that you knew my father well and you told me what a beautiful person he is and how you saw the same inner beauty in my eyes.
It was almost a strange comment to be saying to a near stranger. Almost too serious and meaningful for such a chance encounter. Almost a ridiculous compliment, given the context.
Almost, but not really.
Somehow those few words spoken so genuinely touched me deeply and heartened me. I smiled like all the others by whom you stopped, inwardly encouraged.
Maybe some other day I would have regarded your comment as meaningless, almost silly, and certainly not worth a second thought. But not that day. On this day, it became engraved in my thoughts.
Most of us rarely realize the effect of our words. Maybe if we did, we would choose them more carefully.
You see, just that morning, shortly before I arrived at the school play to enjoy the respite of an afternoon of motherly pleasure, I had received a phone call. The call blackened my world and stole my cheer.
I was informed the tragic news that medical tests that my father had, at that time, undergone pointed to a large growth. The doctors’ prognosis was grim.
It wasn’t until several months later -- after endless tears were shed, earnest communal prayers recited and a harrowing surgical experience -- that a miraculously benign growth was removed and my father recovered fully. But at that moment, after replacing the phone into its receiver, my world view turned dismal.
I drove the drive to my daughter’s play trying to collect my thoughts as tears blurred my vision. It wouldn’t be fair to burden my young and excited daughter with my emotions. Today was her special day. She had so eagerly anticipated proudly demonstrating the culmination of several week’s of preparation to her mother.
For her sake, I would have to withhold my intense feelings. I would have to put the grim news in the back recesses of my mind, and, at least for these few hours of the afternoon, pretend that nothing had been disclosed to me.
The moment that you approached me, I was trying desperately to remove any vestige of worry from my mind. I was trying to erase the creases of tension from my knotted forehead, to force my lips into a casual smile and focus my mind on the impending play. For my daughter’s sake, I must laugh at all the comical parts and clap when applause was called for, even if I heard and saw nothing but the vision of my father before my eyes. I told myself I could not and would not allow melancholy to overtake me -- at least not now.
And as I felt the anguish of this mental wrestling, you approached me. You said your sweet words. Words that any other day may not have sounded nearly so appropriate or nearly so sweet.
You had no idea how your sincere words were a pleasant distraction that comforted a mind racing with bleak thoughts.
When someone is in a difficult circumstance, when one’s worldview becomes dark and oppressive, any smile and any kind word of encouragement becomes a soothing balm -- just as any harsh, critical words becomes that much more painful to endure.
Unbeknownst to you, you uplifted me on that day.
And, in retrospect, thinking about you making your rounds up and down the aisles, I could see that you did that for every person in the room. I don’t know what emotional burden each of the other mothers and grandmothers were carrying, but I could witness their momentary encouragement as you passed by each of them.
We all carry some hurt, some struggle and some pain. Whether we choose to share it with others is our own valid choice. But a word of kindness from another -- even a stranger -- can penetrate into our psyche to slightly lighten our burden and temporarily brighten our demeanor.
I think most of us, rarely realize the effect of our words. Maybe if we did, we would choose them more carefully.