You never know, really, what effect your words and actions might have on another.
When I was in 10th grade, I moved with my family from Ohio to central Georgia. I was very introverted, shy, self-conscious (because, who isn’t at 15?) and also very smart… the girl who sits in the front row and raises her hand to answer every question, but never, ever makes eye contact or speaks to the other students.
The second month of school, my English teacher, who was an extraordinary teacher and became one of my favorite people, tasked us with creating a poem. I don’t remember why or whether it was part of a larger assignment. I have a vague memory of being divided up into groups for this.
A week or so later, a poem found its way to me. It was written by a classmate, a girl I really was drawn to, but, in my shyness, would never have dreamed of attempting to make friends with. She was tall, blonde, witty, and popular. Also, she was kind and compassionate and had a sweetness about her that tempered her wit and caused all who knew her to want to be near her. The poem, to my utter surprise, was about me.
by Leigh Coffee
Quiet and mouselike she sits.
Hardly ever speaking except when spoken to.
One must wonder what is going
On beneath the soft black curls that frame her face.
What kind of fantasies does she have?
What dreams? What aspirations?
They mock her and she
Stands strong, the only hurt feelings
Shine through her eyes.
Big brown eyes that see the world
Through the lens of knowledge.
She is brilliant, yet she doesn’t boast of it.
She smiles sometimes,
Though no on really notices.
Does she have her own little world?
Or does she just refuse to participate
In the selfish, immature world we know?
Angelic face, soft and pale, hiding
Behind the frames of her glasses.
I notice you. I admire you.
You are, in a way, my hero.
Nothing can really adequately describe how reading that poem made me feel. Seen comes close. Witnessed, observed, valued… all those things. It literally changed my life. To read someone else’s private thoughts about me that were so curious and so observant shifted my own view of myself so profoundly. I was left with a deep feeling of worth and value that no other person had ever gifted to me.
Over the course of my life, I have returned to that feeling again and again when facing hard moments. It gave me the courage to stand up for myself. It gave me the courage to believe that I am worthy of whatever I want from my life. It gave me the courage, finally, to fully commit to living, instead of riding the fence of suicide.
The author had no idea the effect her brave witnessing would have, but her vulnerability in letting her own soul be seen in the witnessing of mine has been a shining example of what it means to connect, to be kind, to be brave, and to own one’s own gifts.
So, if you have something nice to say, don’t hold back. Don’t be shy about enthusiastically expressing your love, admiration, respect, awe, or friendship. You never know if it could be the thing that makes the difference in the small moments, the wee hours, the critical split-seconds.