When I was in college I went on a date with a boy named Jason.
Jason was mentally disabled and often had a hard time forming words. But he smiled a lot–and he had no problem at all coming into the news station where I worked and asking me out on a date. I had no problem saying yes. He even brought my favorite kind of flower and I didn’t even know his name. He told me it was because they were yellow and the first time he saw me I had yellow earrings on.
The date was fun. We colored in the grass in a coloring book that he brought and he showed me his Star Wars collection that was quite impressive and would make George Lucas proud. After that we went to an ice cream parlor and he let me choose my favorite ice cream flavor. It was there, in that parlor, that three guys walked in and instantly started to watch us, laugh, and mock the way Jason talked amongst themselves.
I was totally distracted and my heart started to hammer.
Jason didn’t notice. He just smiled with chocolatey lips as he handed me my sherbet and counted change in his palm.
“It has to be a pity date.” one of the guys said in a loud whisper as we walked toward the door.
Jason heard that one.
I spun on a heel, spit out that it wasn’t a pity date and it was actually a very fun time, and we left. Jason was quiet until we reached the car and I thanked him for such a good time. He smiled, but he was sad.
I didn’t see Jason after that, and sometimes I wonder if I would have if things were a little different towards the end of that date. Sometimes I wonder if those words, regardless of how I counteracted them, took away his bravery for the future–when he saw another girl he’d want to color with or share some ice cream with. Sometimes I find myself thinking about Jason, hoping that he forgot those boys in the parlor, and that his Star War collection is being shared with someone else.
And it makes me want to be better. It makes me want to choose my words carefully, even when I don’t think someone can hear me. Because when it comes down to it, we’re all a little fragile.
We talk so much about inner strength and finding bravery to move forward confidently and not be affected by words or the action of others. We talk often about not being easily offended or taking what others say with a grain of salt. But something else that should be talked about is working to be the person who doesn’t offend. Who doesn’t say the words that changes someone’s life for the worse. Working to be kind.
For the last four years, prior to completely moving on and changing my life, I have felt the effect of words. I know firsthand how it feels to change, slowly but surely, and to get chipped away at due to sarcasm, attacks, bullying, or small comments that stain you and stick with you. I know how it feels to become someone totally different all because you’re living according to what someone says about you or thinks of you or even doesn’t like about you.
Regardless of strength or a tough exterior, we have the power to completely build up or destroy one another. With one fell swoop we can bring a man to feel empowered or to bring him to his knees without even recognizing it or seeing it in the way his eyes change.
As we move through this life, there are times where all we are made up of is as fragile as paper and all that’s holding us together is glue. Yet we become so quick to anger, so excited to judge, so ready to blast that horn and flip the finger and shake the daylights out of someone who is simply having a bad day. There’s so little mercy left.
No one likes to be called fragile but we indeed are. We walk with insecurities, weaknesses, heartaches, past abuses, and fears, holding them tight to our chest, vulnerable to be stabbed and prodded where it can hurt the most. We know we have them, yet we sometimes forget that others do too.
In one of my favorite hymns it so eloquently says,
“Who am I to judge another when I walk imperfectly?
In the quiet heart is hidden, sorrow that the eye can’t see…
I would be my brother’s keeper; I would learn the healer’s art.
To the wounded and the weary I would show a gentle heart.”
Our world has enough people who are tough and bold and crass. We have enough people who are narcissistic and high strung and entitled. We need more gentle hearts. We need more healers and protectors. We need more people who go out of their way to be kind and complimentary and loving. We need more selflessness in this world filled with fragile, broken, and ever-growing souls.
Because if we gave each other the time, I can bet you that we’d all be friends and choose our words better. I guarantee those boys in the parlor would laugh at the way Jason beat-boxed to every single song on the radio and appreciate how he smiled all the time. And I guarantee his Star Wars collection would blow them away.
Just like it did for me.