One day some years ago while substitute-teaching in public schools, I noticed a poster taped to the wall of a middle school classroom. It said, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may break my heart."
That quote is in my memory bank to this day, a reminder of the disastrous effect a single word or phrase blurted out can have on someone's life.
But that quote only tells half the story. Spoken words also have the power to give us a psychological shot of adrenaline, help us believe in ourselves, send us soaring to the heights and also endure those bumps or boulders in the road that could otherwise shake the very foundation of our being.
We need written words to live by - magnets on the fridge, quotes on the bulletin board, passages in a book to read and reread when the going gets tough.
My friend Miriam is an example of how this holds true. She had exciting plans for the summer of 2012: to spend six weeks in July visiting friends in the cool climes of Palo Alto, Calif. On June 23, Miriam was at a wedding reception, having fun fast-dancing to the music of Elvis. Suddenly she lost her balance and landed with a thud on the floor, in excruciating pain from what turned out to be a broken wrist and arm on her dominant left hand.
The rest of Miriam's summer was spent in Tucson - a blur of hospitals, surgery, doctors' appointments and physical therapy. During that time, she was preparing to read a passage in Hebrew from the Torah for her synagogue's Yom Kippur service. Was it destiny that this passage included three very important words: "Therefore Choose Life"?
Miriam internalized those words. To her, they meant more than just staying alive. To choose life meant to be an active participant in whatever situation one finds oneself.
My friend spent the next six weeks with her left arm in a cast, enduring quite a bit of pain. Nevertheless, she reached out to others via phone and e-mail. Refusing to be overwhelmed by her own issues, she showed concern for others, including me. She even offered to do a bit of volunteer work. Miriam lived the words she was learning.
I also am a great believer in the power of words. In fact, words are the breath of life to me. I'd like to share a few of the great written words that continue to inspire me. The wisdom contained therein has stood the test of time.
• On my desk is a postcard that says, "Happiness is an inside job." Just when I'm wishing for someone to sprinkle stardust on my life and make everything perfect that postcard serves as a reminder that it's up to me.
• I also think of a line from the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling, which reads in part: "If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two impostors just the same …" That line helps me stay balanced, whatever the fates have in store.
• My late mother Harriet used to say, "Picture everyone wearing a banner that says, 'I want to feel important.' " That advice is as valuable today as when I first heard it many years ago.
• But the most powerful piece of writing to touch me is "Desiderata," a prose poem written by Max Ehrmann. I first read it when I came home from work one night, exhausted and downcast about the future. A line reminded me that my dark mood would probably pass after I'd gotten some decent sleep. It did.
I know the "Desiderata" by heart and recite it frequently before bed.
Some of my favorite lines are:
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune, but do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Be cheerful, strive to be happy.
Dear readers, what written words do you live by? Would you take a moment to e-mail me one or two of your most inspirational quotes and/or short passages? I'm sure I'll learn a lot from them. I'd also like to publish a sampling, along with the names of the people who submit the chosen pieces, in a future column.
On StarNet: Read Barbara Russek's recent columns at azstarnet.com/barbararussek
E-mail Barbara Russek at Babette2@comcast.net