Charleston on what you say
“What you do is critical. You may not think so because you see yourself as being without that much authority or influence, but the things you do count for much more than you may imagine. Every person you reach will touch a thousand more. The direction you share with a single person can turn the wheel of history over time. You are an important part of a great story. You are at the heart of the collective experience of your generation. What you say and do matters, so speak up, take a risk, and dare to be remembered.” Steven Charleston
A boy in my high school class taught me this lesson almost twenty-five years ago at a reunion. He walked up to me at a party before dinner and shortly into the conversation thanked me for keeping him from quitting school. He told a story of when he was a junior or sophomore that he was considering dropping out of high school. He said that I told him one afternoon in science class that it was a bad idea and he would regret it, and for some reason he stayed on to finish. He was so thankful over the years that he had graduated. I never remember that past conversation. Over the years, I have pondered this incident and wondered if I ever really said it, or if he only knew this is what I would have said. I have no idea why he would have listened to me. We were not close friends.
Almost forty years ago I also was given another chance to learn this lesson. At Children’s Hospital in radiology we had a very competent young African American woman working in our file room. After a year, she heard about another job and was getting ready to leave. I simply went and told her how much I enjoyed working with her and wished she would consider staying. The next day I heard she was not leaving because of our conversation. Now forty years later she has become one of the most capable and dependable members of our department. It was a simple courtesy goodbye conversation telling someone how much I would miss her. Faye taught me the lesson of simple kindness and through the years much more. I can never repay her for support through thick and thin.
I think of all the sermons I have preached where people tell me how meaningful what I said was to them, but often what they heard was not what I had said! This would amaze me, thinking I must speak more clearly. Perhaps I should repeat some points. Meditating on it, however, lead me to believe that what we say may speak to something in others that then speaks to them and then resonates with their story. It is complicated. Even when we carefully choose our words, what is heard is so dependent on what is going on in the receiver end.
This morning in my prayers I give thanks for Faye and for Joe, and all those I have had the privilege to be with as a preacher and for what I was empowered to say to them. This morning I know if I make a difference, it is not myself saying those words, but a power greater than myself inside of me that is secretly slipping out through the cracks in my self-absorbed world.