by Deb Graham
One of my early childhood memories is of my four-year-old self, sitting at the big dining room table, feet dangling, fat pencil clenched in hand. I asked my obnoxious teenaged brother how to spell “orange.” I remember by older sister’s laughter as he smirked, “S,T,U,P,I...” and Mom’s sharp defense.
“If we don’t teach her how important words are, how will she learn?”
Wait. Words are important? How can that be, when I hear people fling them around carelessly? As I grew older – and learned to spell – I realized my mother was right. Words are powerful! Words, either marks on paper or verbal utterings, can be used to wound, to heal, to uplift, to guide, or coerce, to crush, to promise, to cut, to encourage, to soothe, to teach, to lie, to jar, to soften, to win one’s point, to manipulate, to entertain, to witness of the truths of eternity, to damage a weak soul.
Some words are arranged into boring textbooks, best used for treating insomnia. Words arranged into sappy romances and spirited fantasies provide escapism. Words, often accompanied by numbers, tell us what debt we owe to the electric company. Medical charts tell a story, as do report cards, school essays, journals, love letters. Words can touch a sagging soul.
My dad died some years ago, and I learned many things that awful week, including the comfort that a note or card at a raw time can bring. Within days, sympathy cards arrived, a full shopping bag of them! Some had only signatures, others brief notes from people who knew my dad and wanted to acknowledge his passing. Each one cost the sender less than five minutes to write; each one touched my family’s hearts. Since then, I’m good about sending sympathy cards as needed!
In my father’s generation, handwritten mail was the norm. In our current society, they’re a rare treat in the mailbox, a tangible sign that you’re not forgotten, that someone took time to wrap thoughts into words onto paper, just for you. I find little note cards to be a surprisingly effective tool for reaching people. Like whispering into the ear of a child having come-apart, they get attention.
I write notes to people who prepared a particularly good sacrament meeting talk, and little thank you notes for friends who help me in ways they often didn’t even count as valuable. I write to missionaries far from home, to discourage spiders from building webs in their mailboxes. I’m surprised when people tell me how much my two-line note meant to them. We’re all hungry for human connection, evidence that somewhere on the planet, another being remembered our existence.
Certainly, I’m Very Busy– we all are. Little do they know I wrote that note in yet another waiting room, or as I sat in my car, fuming at another too-long, slow-moving train. Those three minutes are as valuable as any others in my day.
When you think, “Oh, I wonder how she’s doing,” or “Gee, I feel bad about that,” or “It was so nice of them to help,” I urge you to take time to send a card or a scrawled note. In our fast-paced electronic world, where an emoji counts as communication, a handwritten card can mean more than you know. Just think of the bargain price of a postage stamp as a powerful tool for touching a soul, maybe even healing a wound.
What can you do with words today?