We often do not think of the effect of our words. especially when they are written or said to someone who is peripheral to our lives.
One day, when I was about 24, I was in my living room thinking about making acting and singing my career, of making the gigantic step of moving to NYC. Looking around the room I happened to notice my high school yearbook sitting in the bookcase.
I took it out and started reading the little things people had written to, and about me, in their remember me messages.
I was particularly taken by the words written by Susie (pseudonym). We knew each other slightly, mostly from choir where I was known as the person most afraid of our choir director.
She wrote about my fear, how she thought my body would not be able to take the shaking each time we had a "purge". (Mr, ( ) made each of us, in turn, sing our voice part of one of the pieces of music. Afraid of him, petrified I would make a mistake, I sounded more like a lamb to slaughter, my shaking voice almost baaing.) "Remember the purges? I'll never forget the one where you really sang unbelievably." (That day, for some reason, I overcame the fear. I sang with no terror. The other choir members actually applauded when I was done.)
"I hope", she wrote "that kind of thing continues forever because if you show everyone what you showed him you'll make it anywhere."
Her words reverberated and stayed in my mind and brain. "You can do it" they reminded me, a version of the little engine that could.
I saw Susie a few years later, by happenstance.
I reminded her who I was and we shared some small talk. I told her she had a very big effect on my life because of the words she had written. She looked at me with a kind of strange expression, a "are you a little off?" moue of her lips, the lifting of a brow.
"This is somewhat what you wrote." I said summarizing it for her. "You wrote about showing everyone what I showed Mr ( ) that day of the purge. No one ever said that to me before, no one ever gave me the kind of encouragement, that the possibilities are there. I really want to thank you for that."
Her expression indicated she thought it was a strange thing for me to say, or maybe just that I was strange. We said our good byes. I have never seen her again.
It was, for her, a little thing. Maybe she grew up in a house where an "atta girl" and pat on the back was common. That was not the case for me. My impression was my remembering it, much less taking it to heart, was way beyond what she intended. She wrote what she thought at the time and never gave it another thought. I read what she wrote at the time, and gave it a lot of thought.
Words can hurt. Words can heal. They can encourage, or discourage. They can linger in the air, between people, reminders of their hurtfulness. They can settle in your heart and sing to you.
The little things, the thoughtful, and thoughtless, really do mean a lot.
I think of Susie's words now and again. They remind me that what I say may take only a few seconds but what you hear may last forever.