Words that transform


We often underestimate the extent to which just the slightest word of interest or encouragement on our part towards another can brighten and empower a life. The life of one we may see every day, or of those we engage during chance meetings.

Some refer to it as “cheap grace,” not because it is without value, but because it costs so little and means so much. It would be a shame to withhold the words we can give to those whose lives these words would strengthen.

A story is told that Verdi, the great musician and composer, came upon an organ grinder whose clothing was unkempt, and who looked as though he had not bathed in a while. Even his monkey looked filthy and miserable. Worst of all, for Verdi, the man was playing the tune on his instrument too slowly. Verdi tapped the man on the shoulder as he walked past him and said, “Pick it up, pick it up.”

Three weeks later Verdi came upon this very same man again, and to his surprise the man had cleaned himself up, and was even well dressed. The monkey had also undergone a transformation and was neat and clean — and seemed happy. But, best of all, the organ grinder was playing the tune in perfect time. Verdi walked past the man and turned to congratulate him on his tremendous improvement of appearance and style and, to his surprise, saw a band on the organ-grinder’s hat which read: “Master Musician, Student of Verdi.”

At some point we have all felt discouraged and depressed over circumstances we have faced, and over which we had little or no control. We have sat late into the night with someone we know was hurting, or a loved one who was dying and whose situation we were helpless to change. We have watched the questioning face of a child in pain looking to us for comfort as words escaped us. We have felt the sense of shame and embarrassment over losing our job.

We have prayed late into the night simply because somewhere along the way our reason for living fell through a crack in the bottom of life. We have lived, and in living we have experienced life when it overwhelms.

Most of us can remember when a word of encouragement or guidance from someone whose judgement we valued helped reshape our lives (or would have if they had been spoken). When our spirits were resurrected from the depths. We may have felt that nobody cared how we felt, or that we had begun to lose our sense of worth — when the right word, from the right person at the right time changed everything.

We can be that someone for others. A word, spoken in the right tone, can restore hope and bring out the best. Sometimes just our presence, silent but loving, speaks volumes. One thing is certain, people who are hurting need more than the idle curiosity of onlookers.

It costs us so little, and yet means so much to those who receive the gift of our words and our presence. Why not look around today for some person who seems to be down. Give them an encouraging word.

The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.

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