In high school, I had a teacher, Mrs. Kuntz, who was so tough on her students that we all feared failing her class. Never before had I worried so much about earning a passing grade, but her high standards made me wonder if I had what it took.
At the end of the semester, I wrote a book report and had to pull an all-nighter to finish it. The next day, I turned it in.
When Mrs. Kuntz returned the marked-up version, my heart dropped into my stomach as I saw all the red marks covering the paper. Furiously flipping through 15 paper-clipped pages, I arrived at the last one.
There it was in bold, red ink:
The teacher who rarely gave out good grades and never offered empty praise gave me something special, something I was sure the other students didn’t get. And below the grade was a note:
Please consider a career as a journalist or professional writer. You have a gift.
Nobody had ever said anything like that to me. I still have the paper today.
Words like that, affirming words from mentors and teachers and even strangers, make us into the people we become.
I’m embarrassed to admit this
There’s something powerful about words. They can tell a person she matters or that you believe in her. But they can also tear down and destroy, hurt and wound and make a person question everything about himself.
There’s no denying it: words have weight. So why do we often disregard their power?
For the past couple years, my wife and I have sponsored two children through two different child sponsorship organizations. And every so often, we get a letter from one, which we read, stick on the refrigerator, and then quickly forget about.
Apart from reading those letters and rarely responding, these kids have not been a part of our lives. I have never gone out of my way to tell them I believe in them or love them or think they’re special.
And I am so very ashamed of this.
Because today, I saw what those words can mean to a child.