When I was sixteen, a good friend of mine died while on an overseas school trip (peanut allergy). I have thought of her often over the years.
In my early twenties, when I was struggling and did not know if I believed in a God, I reached out to her instead. I imagined her looking down, hearing my words and giving me comfort. When the turmoil of my twenties settled, there were many other times that I thought of her and wondered what she would have been like at this age and that.
When I dig through my box of memorabilia and come across pages ripped from my high school notebook, I think of her. I see the squiggles of her writing in the margins and am reminded of us writing notes back and forth during social studies class.
Yes, I have thought of her often in the thirty-two years since her death.
Yet in all that time, I have never told her parents how much she has been in my thoughts. In the days immediately after her death, I went to her house, saw her parents and stumbled over my words of grief. I did it again at the funeral. But after that, nothing.
At my ten year high school reunion (back in 1994) I thought of putting my thoughts into words and sharing them with her parents. But I did not. And soon another ten years went by. Then another.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of my high school reunion. As planning messages went back and forth, I saw three names scratched out on the graduation class lists: two deaths I knew of (they happened shortly after graduation), but the third was recent. And then there was Cara. Gone in grade eleven, so not on the list: such a glaring absence. Was that the final push I needed?
I flipped through my albums and found a picture of Cara (taken shortly before her death). I drew until the words I wanted to say to her parents started to come. I wrote so they would know that their daughter — my friend — has been in my heart all these years. And when I sealed the hand drawn card and words in an envelope, I could almost feel Cara looking down on me, smiling and saying, “-bout time!”
So why did it take me so long? Why is it so easy to overlook saying what is really important to those around us? So many words spill out of our mouths each day, but how many of them are words of recognition, kindness, support, encouragement, or appreciation?
“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” — Mother Teresa
Our hearts can be filled with warm thoughts about someone — admiration, respect, love, pride — yet how often do we share those thoughts aloud? Do we assume the other person already knows? Think they should not need to hear them? Do we stop ourselves from saying them, worrying that we might embarrass ourselves by saying it “wrong”? Or do we feel too vulnerable saying them aloud when we are not sure how the other will respond?
“You bring out the best in yourself by looking for the best in others.” — Gene Bedley
But isn’t there so much more to be gained by sharing those warm thoughts, rather than holding them in? Doesn’t it feel good to say them? Write them? Know that you put something positive out into the world with no strings attached? And whether you are the giver or the receiver, don’t those kind words warm your insides just a bit?
“Appreciation can make a day, even change a life. Your willingness to put it into words is all that is necessary.” — Margaret Cousins
Could it be as easy as making the decision to do more of it? Give the heartfelt compliment. Praise another. Point out a positive. Tell someone you appreciate them. Let someone know they matter to you. Find that long-ago special someone and tell them that they made a positive difference in your life. Or reach out to someone who is carrying a shadow of grief for a lost loved one and let them know that you, too, remember.
Rather than just thinking it, let’s start saying it.
“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.” — Oscar Wilde
“Sincere compliments cost nothing and can accomplish much. In any relationship, they are the applause that refreshes.” — Steve Goodier
“One kind word can warm three winter months.” — Japanese Proverb
“Remember there’s no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end…” — Scott Adams
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” — John Wesley
“I will be generous with my love today. I will sprinkle compliments and uplifting words everywhere I go. I will do this knowing that my words are like seeds and when they fall on fertile soil, a reflection of those seeds will grow into something greater.” — Steve Maraboli
“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” — Edith Wharton