Archive for Thursday, February 3, 2011

The power of words, both said, left unsaid

February 3, 2011

“Words unsaid can fall back dead, but God himself can’t stop them once they’re said.”

I don’t know the source of that quote; it was something my mother used to say. We live in an increasingly uncivilized society — one in which there are those who say whatever they like, irrespective of the outcome on others.

On the other hand, we live in a society where civilized people are looking for ways to enhance a sense of caring, concern and responsibility to others. The power of words cannot be underestimated; the use of words is incredibility important.

I, like others, have been watching the progress of Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman who was shot last month outside a Tucson grocery store. It has been heart wrenching, but what we have learned, if we didn’t know it already, is that there is great evil in this world and people who engage in evil behavior with catastrophic consequences.

The question has been raised as to whether the public knows too much, has been exposed to too much and whether Giffords’ right to privacy has been invaded. The bullet that struck Giffords has penetrated the heart and soul of every decent person in this society, and in that sense we are one in the struggle for her survival and rehabilitation.

In watching these events, I was reminded of a patient I took care of when I was a young student. He was a young man with a head injury, unresponsive, in a coma. It was my responsibility to care for him. Each morning after I bathed him, changed the linen and cared for his injuries, I sat beside him and read to him.

There were those who thought I was wasting my time reading to him; that he couldn’t hear me. I remembered as a youngster when I was gravely ill with a high fever that my mother often sat at my bedside and read to me. Though I was unable to respond at times, the sound of her voice called me back from a dark and forbidding place. I read to him because of that memory.

It was summer. I read the sports section of the Kansas City Times. Toward fall, he began to arouse. One morning I walked into his room and spoke to him. He turned toward me. He later said he recognized the sound of my voice — through the darkness and his inability to speak, the sound of my voice came to him.

And so it is. The sound of our voices, heard and unheard, is carried over time and space to those in dark and forbidding places — a clarion call of compassion and hope, beckoning her back from a dark and forbidding place. In this struggle, we are one.

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