Feb 03 2014
I have to admit that things are pretty cheery on Planet Kathy. Life is more than good for me. Yes, I roll instead of walk, but feet aren’t everything. Fluffy is absolutely terrific, and we live in a household where life is full of happiness.
But we aren’t completely blinded by our joy. We realize that outside our door, the world has a way of beating people down. Some of those people are those we love.
Right before Christmas, for example, cancer hovered over the homes of two of those people. It eventually flew over one of those homes, but it landed right on top of the other. And the news in that house was just about as bad as news can get.
Now I’m not the best person for consolation when friends are afraid of dying. That’s because I have absolutely no fear of death. This is not a post-coma phenomenon. I was born without a fear of death. I grew up from childhood that way.
I have always thought of death as the ultimate adventure — the way that other people think of a vacation to Disneyland or a safari to Africa. It’s something to plan and look forward to. The only thing is, you never know the date on the reservation, and you usually don’t get to pack or take your loved ones with you.
My total lack of fear of death means I am not the best person to come to when somebody gets the Ultimate Bad News from doctors. I really try to empathize with them, and in some cases it is possible to do so. This time was one of them.
My friend may have won the trip of a lifetime, but it was an all-expenses vacation for one. It was a one-way journey, and she had young children at home. As exciting as it may have been to win that adventure, she did not want to win it at the cost of leaving her husband and her children. She did not want to step off this world by herself into the unknown.
She came over to our house several times, looking for solace. Fluffy and I consoled her as best we could, but I couldn’t find just the right thing to say and I knew it. It chafed me because I couldn’t say just the perfect words in that particular situation. Of course, I said to myself, maybe there were no perfect words to be said.
Weeks passed. One Sunday, the two of us happened to sit together in Relief Society. I don’t remember the topic of the lesson, but during the course of the lesson one of the women in the room made a comment that included four momentous words. Those words were, “a plague of sadness.”
As soon as I heard that phrase, I realized that this was precisely what my friend with cancer was undergoing. These were exactly the words that I had been trying so hard to capture, but that had been eluding me for so many weeks.
I turned to my friend, and she turned to me in the same moment. I saw that she was experiencing the same epiphany that I was. She, too, recognized “a plague of sadness” as the malady that had struck her down just as surely as her cancer had done.
Instead of wrapping our arms around one another and dissolving in tears, the two of us did the most curious thing. We straightened up, stared straight at each other and said, in deep, theatrical whispers, “a plague of sadness.”
If James Earl Jones wasn’t in the room, he should have been. His was the voice we used, without any sort of prompting. We arched our eyebrows, lowered our voices, and like twin bullfrogs said, “a plague of sadness” — not once, but over and over again.
Oh, did we giggle. In fact, though neither of us can be described as a giggler, both of us giggled like twelve-year-old girls at a slumber party. Fortunately, we were sitting at the back of the room so I don’t think we disturbed anyone else. But for once, if we did disturb anyone, they just had to sit back and endure it. This may have looked like silliness, but it was anything but silly. It was a sacred moment.
By mocking words that were so deadly serious, the two of us mocked the disease that had brought so much fear into the heart of my friend. Our laughter gave her power over cancer that she may not heretofore have had.
I could not come up with the healing words on my own, but God gave me the gift of the right words at the right time. You never know how prayers will be answered, and who will be the instrument who delivers the words to you. This time it was a person across the room who had no idea she was acting as God’s mouthpiece, but who was speaking for Him as surely as He had answered any of my prayers.
I have thought about this many times in the past few weeks. I have been grateful for the odd phrase, “a plague of sadness,” and how perfectly appropriate it was for my friend and me at this particular time in her life.
Even more, though, I have wondered how often I have been God’s unwitting mouthpiece. I wonder how often He puts strange phrases in my mouth that comfort those who need comfort — people who may be across a room, and who may be there without even my knowledge.
I hope that has happened. I hope He often finds uses for me that way.
But if that is the case — if I have the power to be God’s unwitting mouthpiece — I also have the power to inflict deep wounds without ever knowing what harm I have caused.
The book of Proverbs offers a pithy reminder of how powerful, and how dangerous, our words can be:
A cutting word is worse than a bowstring; a cut may heal, but the cut of the tongue does not (Proverbs 18:21).
I know my soul bears the wounds of the tongues of others. The writer of Proverbs is right in that those wounds are deep. I also know that my tongue is an unbridled creature, well capable of injuring the people around me.
I have a friend whose mother was a feisty old lady, notorious for saying anything that crossed her mind. I once said to her, “I’m afraid I’m going to be just like your mother when I get old.”
My friend look startled. “What do you mean, ‘when I get old’?” she asked. “You’re just like her already!”
Years have passed. I wasn’t a little old lady back in those days, but I’m a lot closer to being one today. Today, just as I did then, I have a choice. Do I use my tongue to hurt, or to heal? If people are to remember me, are they going to remember me as God’s occasional mouthpiece, or as a little old lady whose tongue got away from her on every possible occasion?
Perhaps they’ll remember me as both.