His eyes are growing tired after years of battling a disease that has ravaged his mind and body. He sleeps more now – more and more everyday you can see the energy leaving him. We have thought the end was here before but he rallied – met us with his great big smile the next day. So we never know – do we.
But the thing I keep coming back to as we face the possibility – if not today soon of him leaving us is what words will he take with him. Over a lifetime of words that have been spoken to him during his childhood, his adulthood, before his illness and after, what words are left – at the end what stays?
You see words do matter.
As I think about dad’s passing I am struck with an almost overwhelming sense of wanting, of needing to make sure that he knows – what an amazing father, provider, giver, friend, grandfather, uncle, co-worker, husband to mom etc. he was to his family. I want to take back all the ridiculous words of my adolescence and leave him with words of gratitude, love and overwhelming thanks! I want him to know.
We live in a time when words are being spoken without regard to the consequences they have on those around them – individually or communally. And we can’t just take them back – they are out there. Forever. Someone or something is changed because of a spoken word – for good or ill.
There is power in words.
I continue to learn this lesson personally as well as on a more global scale. I am very adept, when angered, to say hurtful words that wound – it is a lesson I continue to grapple with. I have hurt those I love most with wounding words. So I know that words have the gift of redemption and the curse of destruction. They can take us to a place of hope and mercy or they can drag us into the depths of despair. We need, I need to be careful with words.
This week has seen words turn into destructive, horrible action. My heart is broken into a million pieces because of the images and horror in Pittsburgh, the mail bombs sent to individuals, the school shooting in North Carolina, the vitriol around human beings fleeing harsh conditions – my heart is just broken.
My hope is that grace and forgiveness are more powerful and can transform an ill spoken word – a hurtful expression. That we can emerge from damaging, even violent encounters caused by words spoken in anger, ignorance and sometimes intent to a place of greater understanding and real authenticity. But it takes courage and it takes a willingness to say – but what if I’m wrong? And even if I’m not wrong does diminishing another through my words offer anything useful. From personal experience – that answer is no. The systematic use of language to marginalize and diminish others for political gain is destroying us from within.
And then I went to an event in our community that brought together over 2000 people of diverse faiths, backgrounds, creeds and cultures – over 2000 people who met at a local synagogue. People whose hearts like mine were broken, whose minds were struggling to understand how we are here but who chose in the midst of that, to spend a Tuesday night showing support for each other and love for all. There were words of action but more there were words of forgiveness and strength in the face of violence.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
And so today I have hope – Light and Love will never be silenced. The dawn happens – even after the darkest night. Light will overcome.