Finding The Right Words
Have you ever noticed how hard it can be to find the right words?
It was once said that Al Smith, former governor of New York, was
making his first inspection of Sing Sing prison. The warden asked
him if he might say a few words to the prisoners.
The governor began, "My fellow citizens." But he suddenly felt
confused about whether the inmates may have forfeited their
citizenship. So he took a second stab at it: "My fellow convicts."
There was a roar of laughter and now he became flustered. He
gallantly tried a third time: "Well, anyhow, I'm glad to see so many
of you here." There is no record of what he said after that.
I have frequently struggled to find the right words. And there are
times I am certain the right words do not even exist. Like when I'm
trying to say something hopeful or comforting in a particularly
More than once I have been called to a hospital emergency room or to
be with a family surrounding the bed of a dying relative. And more
than once I've been at a loss for words. What is the right thing to
say at a time like that? What can I say that doesn't sound hollow or
trite or like I'm just not in touch with the feelings of others who
A lot of us really don't know what to say at these times. And too
often the professionals who work daily with people on the ragged
edge of hope have become so desensitized they have lost any ability
A wise obstetrician at a university teaching hospital once made a
comment about comforting those who suffer. Someone asked the doctor
what advice he offered his students, future doctors and nurses, when
caring for mothers who gave birth to stillborn infants.
The doctor paused for a moment in thought. Then he said this: "I
tell them that they need two eyes. One eye is not enough; they need
two eyes. With one eye they have to check the I.V. And with the
other eye they have to weep. That's what I tell them," he said. "I
tell them that they need two eyes."
That may be some of the wisest advice I've ever heard. We may not
always need to figure out what to say; we really only need two eyes.
In Emily Dickinson's words, "Saying nothing . . . sometimes says the
most." And this from a poet whose life was all about finding exactly
the right words.
I agree with the doctor - empathy goes a long way. And somehow
finding the ability to feel, even for a few moments, what another is
feeling may speak more loudly than the best words I can choose. It
speaks to the fact that I care; I understand. It says that I am
willing to share their pain so they do not feel so alone. It says I
want to be fully present with them and to walk alongside of them,
difficult as it may be. My presence is something they can draw real
strength and hope from.
Come to think of it, maybe Dickinson did find the right words:
. . . sometimes says the most. And saying nothing at
all may be just the right thing to say.
~ Steve Goodier ~
[ by: Steve Goodier - Copyright © 2011 - from Steve Goodier (LifeSupport@yahoogroups.com) ]
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