It’s humbling to consider which of the many words we speak to acquaintances will be remembered decades later. Like the room mom who told eight-year-old me I was a complainer on a field trip (I was and I am, God forgive me). Or the pastor’s wife who informed me that my problem is I didn’t know how to share (I’m not sure exactly what she meant, but I’ve been pondering it for twenty years). Or the women in Latin America who pleaded with us (American teenagers) to take their babies back to the U.S.
Often the words we remember are heart-wrenching or critical, but sometimes they are beautiful and inspirational. Like the grandma who said through a translator that kids whose fathers hold them a lot have better dispositions (no official study to cite, but I think she’s right). Or the new friend who described time with our family as “life-giving”. Or the border officer who smiled as he said, “Welcome home” when our swollen feet finally planted on American ground after forty hours of travel.
In medical school, I rotated with an amazing psychiatrist. Psychiatry was my favorite rotation (there’s a lot to analyze in why I didn’t become a psychiatrist in light of that statement, but I won’t), and this attending was one of the best. He was in his late seventies and had maintained compassion for both patients and students. I’m sure he taught me many things, but the only I explicitly remember is his commitment to physical heath. He walked up the ?twenty-eight (the details are blurry) flights of stairs each morning to his office. Perhaps because of this example, I remember him saying that he kept a rowing machine next to his bed so the first thing he did every morning was exercise.
Yesterday, I moved this bike upstairs so I could more efficiently complete my daily cardio without interruption and distraction. And this morning, I laughed when I saw it so near my bed in the morning light. I remembered my shock at a man more than fifty years my senior jumping on a rowing machine as soon as his eyes opened. I’m going to move my Kindle up next to my bed so I can keep plugging through everything CS Lewis available at the library. Keeping my mind on Heaven, my back functional, and my heart in shape is a great way to start each morning.
Indeed, we become what we behold. And often, we behold what we have heard. This realization has given me pause as I consider the weight of words spoken, particularly to those who won’t likely hear more than a few paragraphs from us. Can we use words for good, even in brief interactions? Can we at least refrain from negativity that clings to memories for a lifetime? God grant us the strength and perspective to do both.