The Power of Words

sister corita kent

Last week I was thinking about Sister Corita Kent, and her bold graphic work during the 1960’s and 1970’s. I had a poster of the work above in my dorm room  in 1969. She remains one of my favorite graphic artists for her consistently brave creative choices in making statements against War and Hatred.

The Power of Words is sometimes obvious to us, and other times seems to go undetected as we hurtle through space on our daily trips. When someone uses hurtful words, the old reptilian brain seems to hold onto those for a long time; we remember abuse and keep it close to our hearts when we wish we could let it go. Fortunately we remember praise and loving words that come our way as well. Do you remember when a revered teacher praised your work in High School? I do. It meant so very much to me that I still parade that moment around in my head once in a while. Perhaps you can remember the first time your partner/spouse said “I love you”. Those are very powerful words. Right? Changed your life?

Sometimes a very few words can cut through us to our core. About 12 years ago,when I lived in Sanibel, Florida, I got a phone call from the local hardware store. It seems that a piece of my mail had been put in their post office box. I assumed it was an advertisement, so I asked them to read it to me, thus saving me a trip there to pick it up. The person started reading:” The family of Virginia Osbourne requests your presence at a MEMORIAL Service………..”. I didn’t hear the rest. My dear friend, Bette, had passed away suddenly. We hadn’t spoken for about 8 weeks, and her son couldn’t find my updated phone number. He mailed me an invitation to her service, and it had gotten placed in the wrong mailbox. I must have thanked the person on the phone, and hung up. I can only remember sitting on the floor of my home office rocking back and forth with a pain in my stomach like I had been punched hard. These are words we never want to hear.

A few weeks ago I Googled an old boyfriend whom I had not seen in years. I was curious about how his life had developed, and wanted to “friend-request” him on Facebook. As I typed in his name, it was followed by the word “OBITUARY”. Stunned, I read the brief description of his recent death, and was shaken by sadness and regret. Why hadn’t I gotten in touch sooner? What kind of fear or vanity kept me from reconnecting before it was too late? The force of that one word pointed out the importance of doing things NOW instead of LATER.

Perhaps the most powerful word that exists is: YES. There is the story of John and Yoko from the 1960’s which involves John going to an art installation of Yoko’s; supposedly one had to climb a ladder and reach a note attached to the ceiling. When John climbed up, the note had a single word: “YES”.He said if that word had been “No”, things would have been very different. I understand.

Think of all the times you have been told YES. When you applied for a job. When you got a mortgage. When you asked someone to marry you. When you asked if your new baby was healthy. How mighty were those words? What paths did you take because of “YES”?

One of my most indelible memories is of the 1990 Amnesty International General Meeting, which was held in Boston at my alma mater, Boston University. I had been involved with my local chapter in Yarmouth, Maine for over three years at that time, having accepted the position of Case Coordinator. At the Meeting the Executive Director of AI, Jack Healey was scheduled to speak. I remember thinking a lot about how Maine was not on the radar for the superstars of AI. (Sting and the Boss never did a  fundraiser concert in Portland!) So, I began to think of asking Mr. Healey to come and speak. Now, this seemed a bit ludicrous at the outset. Why would Mr. Healey devote his time to us, when he could be speaking to much larger crowds and get more media coverage in Boston, New York, or Philadelphia? Nonetheless, the Loyalist in my genes won over my reservations, and I decided to ask him. After his speech, I summoned my courage and went down to the front of the auditorium where he stood talking to individual members. When it was my turn, I politely asked if he would consider coming to Maine to speak……and he said “YES”. The word fairly thundered in my ears. I was overcome with emotions of surprise, elation, and pride. I had asked for what I deemed likely impossible, and was rewarded with “YES”. I remember I went to the ladies’ room and got inside a stall (the only place for immediate privacy) and danced my happy dance. It was a very, very empowering moment!

Words. They have always fascinated me, from every standpoint and in every language. I enjoy studying their origins. I enjoy learning about their delicate nuances. I believe they have power to heal and to encourage and to delight. Say “YES” to someone you love today.



Author: barbarabeardsley

Writing is essential for me. My work helps me through so much of Life, and brings me joy and creative fulfillment. I hope you will enjoy reading my stories, essays, and poems.

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