Christmas came early to me. Two weeks before Santa’s arrival I was given a heartfelt, meaningful gift that I would never exchange for a material item, no matter how extravagant. It was given by someone I’d only spent three hours with, and hadn’t seen in three or four years. The gift was four words, “You saved my life.”
These words took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. I instinctively crossed my palms over my heart and tried to receive this offering. I was speechless. The speaker, a former client who happened to be in the same place I was, continued. They said they’d met with me at one of the lowest points in their life and our three counseling sessions provided them with a template for change. Little by little they made adjustments based on our discussions and now were living a more fulfilling life.
This experience touched me in a profound way. In the immediate context, this five minute exchange completely replenished me after a stressful week. One client, who I’d seen every day that week, was in crisis, another was at risk in an abusive marriage and yet another was trying to cope with the recent murder of his brother. I was emotionally depleted after doing my best to be fully present with my clients and their suffering. These four, simple words refilled my reservoir of compassion and resilience. It felt like divine intervention to be given this gift after one of the most challenging weeks of my year.
On a larger scale, this interaction illuminated the fact that I never know the impact I may have on someone. Because this client didn’t reschedule, I thought I hadn’t been helpful or had possibly said something to anger or hurt them. It never once crossed my mind that I had provided what they needed. Their gratitude gave me hope that I was making a difference in the world, something my inner critic often denies. It inspires me to keep doing my best, even though I may never know the impact my efforts have on others. Carrie Newcomer, one of my favorite songwriters, captures this in her song, “Stones in the River.”
So today I'll drop stones into the river
And the current takes them out into forever
And the truth is most of us will never know
Where our best intentions go.
We may question the impact we’re having globally, professionally, and in our personal lives with those we love. We may ask ourselves, “What’s the point of it all?”. My belief is that “the point of it all” is to positively affect others. We must, as Carrie Newcomer wrote, throw our stones into the river, even though we’re not sure where they will land or the difference they will make. Maybe our stone is to help align someone with their life purpose as I did with this client; maybe our stone is our sense of humor that changes a mood; maybe our stone is a piece of art that changes someone’s perspective. Or maybe, our stone is made of words.
Words have power. My words had the power to change a client’s life and their words had the power to change mine. Words are free and require no time commitment, but as my story exemplifies, words can transform a life, or at the very least, a day. Are you aware of the impact your words have? Do you speak mindfully from a place of compassion and non-judgement to both yourself and others?
You are more powerful than you give yourself credit for, so please, use this power for the good. Set the intention for 2019 to use words that teach, uplift, love and express gratitude. Never doubt that you as one person cannot change the world, because you can, and it may only take four words.