Wednesday, February 13, 2008

My Michelle

I was thinking this morning as I was doing the dishes for the first time in about 10 days, about compliments. Or more specifically, the effect of our words. I read in a book a long time ago something along the lines of, "If we knew the affect our words had on other people, we would choose silence." And yesterday on Dr. Phil, or sometime in the past week when I was flipping through dozens of channels at the rate of 27 channels per second, I heard him say something like this: "When we get to the end of our life, we will see clearly the impact our decisions have had on others." I really do believe that.

Nothing has made me more aware of how I speak or what I say than my own children. Sometimes my kids will repeat back to me what they've heard me say and I'm horrified. It just sounds wrong coming out of the mouth of a sweet 3 year old with a speech impediment.  Or I will lose my cool with them and I see their devastated little faces looking up at me. Yeah, nothing makes me feel like a schmuck faster than that.

But there are times when people say things so small, almost in passing, and it can change how you view the world. Or it can be just the thing you need to hear to make a positive decision in your life. Or sadly, a negative one. I want to focus a little more on the positive though.

When I was 22 I was leaving my mission and feeling in some ways, on top of the world, and in other ways, more vulnerable than I had ever felt in my life. Although on my mission I spent 18 months talking about things quite personal, I also had the security of being a missionary. It was expected of me. I had a tag that proved it was my job to do what I did. I was with 150 other girls doing the same thing. Going home would mean leaving that security. It also meant freedom. And boys. And no more dresses. And sleeping in. I digress...

I had the same kind of strange insecurity when I graduated from college and no longer had the identity of "student" to fall back on; no more good excuses for being lazy, irresponsible, acting like 17 credits was the hardest thing any person has ever done, paying $130 rent, never owning a single piece of kitchenware... That was a hard transition for me.

Anyway, as I was leaving my mission, I was excited and happy on the outside. And terrified on the inside. I was terrified about things that just didn't make sense. I would be re-entering the dating world and with that came the very annoying practice of making myself interesting, attractive, and desirable to the opposite sex. A feat I never truly achieved. :) This was one of my many secret anxieties. A couple of days before I left my mission I found a note in my mailbox. It was a piece of notebook paper with just a quick note scrawled upon it.

It was from my friend Michelle.  Even though I hadn't expressed much to her of my fears, she had written several things I really needed to hear.  One thing in particular jumped out at me. She couldn't have known of my unspoken fears but she had written something about how the person I married would adore me so completely because I am easily capable of being adored that much. She wrote it a lot better.

I carried that piece of paper with me and knew exactly where it was at any given time until I was about 25. Which incidentally, coincides with when I met J. I read it and reread it when I was home alone on a Friday night and my friends all had dates. I read and reread it when I had to break up with a boyfriend. I read and reread and reread it when I moved to St. Louis and suddenly became the queen of all bumbling idiots in front of any guy I liked. I remember driving home from one guy's house one night and I started crying. I had been SO stupid and I was just so sad that at 25 I was just learning that I had acute adult onset stupidity.

That night I happened to IM with J (who was just a friend) and I expressed my dismay at my stupidity and he responded, "I doubt he put as much stock in it as you did". I'm sure he has no memory of the conversation, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. Interestingly enough, that very statement has been a prevalent theme in our marriage.

There's no way Michelle could have known the impact that note would have on me. I think about that note all the time when I have a desire to do something nice and then brush it off thinking it won't really make that much of a difference. Even after everything I've just written, I can't fully articulate how profound of an effect that note had on me. Sometimes it was just the comfort of knowing that someone who knew me, warts 'n all still thought that about me.

I want to be more mindful of the things I say. I want the things I say and do to have a positive effect. I think we can all really make some positive ripples if we actively work at saying and doing things that will help bring people up. And we don't even have to wait for an opportunity, we can make them. One of the things I love most about Michelle's note was, it wasn't solicited by me having a hard day or being blue, she just thought it and she wrote it. I wonder if she even remembers....

Edited to add: I still have the note. Just came across it a couple of months ago in a move. 2013.  Don't know where my birth certificate is, but this note--it's safe.


Leslie said...

wow, that's a great story. i remember reading somewhere one time that if you think a compliment, you should say it. even if you like some random lady's handbag, you ought to tell her, because you never know what effect your words can have. i can't think of any specific compliments given to me, per se, but i do make an effort to never let a compliment go unsaid.

just typing this out, i've had an epiphany. forget the lady with the cute purse, i need to compliment my kids WAY more than i do. thank you for the opportunity to realize that!

i completely adore your blog, if that counts for anything. :)

TheVasquez3 said...

oh i really like this post!! it made me think a few thinks.

when i was 14 a YW advisor wrote all of the girls a personal note. mine was so special to me. alot of the girls shared and compared but i didn't want to see if she had repeated some of the thoughts she shared with me, makign it less personal. anyway one of the things she said to me was "what you pay attention to grows" i have most def carried that with me through my life. it works on both the positive and the negative. so i try REALLY hard to ignore the things that are going wrong and focus on the things that are going right...because what you pay attention to grows!!

my grandma gavem e very sound advice when i got married... "sometimes you just have to love him". yep...i think about that whenever my honey is being less then loveable. and loving him anyway helps me overlook the fact that he is, afterall just a man.

stuff like this makes me want to go out of my way to share a kind word or an encouraging thought. after reading your post and thinking of the way people's words have affected me over the years (both good and bad) makes me feel like maybe i have something to say that will carry someone else through a time when they need to be carried.

omar said...

That's a really nice story, Nobody. (Can I call you "Nobo"? Nobody seems too long to type out sometimes.)

This wasn't a compliment, but I *always* remember my 3rd grade teacher saying I have an attitude problem. Nothing any teacher has ever said before or since has had such a profound impact on me. Mrs. Yeaw. If you see her, spit on her shoes for me. Wait, no, that makes it seem like I have a bad attitude.

On the complimentary side, when I was in college, someone who I didn't even know that well once asked me, "how is it that you can say so little, but still make everyone around you smile?" That was like 12 years ago, but it has stuck with me. I like to make people smile, but quick-witted conversational humor is not my strength. So it was nice to have someone recognize that I do make people smile, in spite of that "weakness."

(My quicker-witted roommate responded to the question, "he did two years of mime school before coming here.")

Tori :) said...

Great great post coming from someone named "Nobody." ;)
I think one of the best compliments I received wasn't exactly what was said, but who said it. My mom isn't big on handing out compliments to her children. She's not mean, she just seems to compliment everyone but us. Anyway, in 9th grade she said "You know you're a better athlete than Tara, right?" Uh, no. I had no idea.
I also remember my old bishop's wife writing me a letter teling me how beautiful I was and thoughtful, etc... She's gay now-seriously. But at the time it meant a lot.

Sketchy said...

Well you did just email a week or so ago. That was really cool.

PS: if I ever cook you dinner or something you can tell me I'm a good cook and I'll appreciate it.

Sketchy said...

PS: I think you're funny. And kind.

MommyJ said...

My husband had a new assistant at work that was not the ummm, sharpest tool in the shed. He was constantly having to re-train her and explain even the most simple of procedures... we won't even talk about the more complicated things she was no where near getting! One evening, while telling me of his frustrations, he told me that he just wished he could work with someone like me, because he knew I would 'get' whatever he needed me too.

That made me feel good... even though I spend a lot of time doing the mundane and ordinary, it's nice to know he still thnks I have intellect and ability.

My Mom always gives compliments to strangers, and now that I am grown, I find myself doing the same thing. If I think the girl at the drive thru window at dairy queen has beautiful eyes, I'm going to tell her. Sometimes people look at me weird, but if I think it, I'm normally going to say it. (this is a quality that quite frequently gets me in trouble.)

That reminds me of my last c-section, the doctor leaned over to tell me that he was done and would see me in recovery, and I called him back in to the room to tell him that his eyes looked really beautiful and blue next to the blue sterile drapes that were all over the O-R. He looked at me a little weird.

Rebecca said...

Wonderful, thought provoking post.

MommyJ said...

I get the super long comment award.

SARAH said...

You called my sister and said something that everyone has said to her but coming from you she really listened... I was very greatful for you saying that to her.. and
your family as always made me laugh... I love to laugh

Anonymous said...

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Rebecca said...

Okay first off.. I have to say.. you are exactly the person you write about.. you alway have the right things to say and I know when I chat with you, you figure me out.. and make it better.. and btw.. when you are writing your book.. I painted the closet in the playroom too..sad I know. .anyway!!! Its funny you asked for examples of specific compliments.. last weekend we had adult conf. at church so I got dressed, black white skirt, black shirt with black sway coat, hair in a headband, I wanted to look nice, but nothing in particular stood out. That night after the conference was finished, two different complete strangers came up to me and told me how elegant and beautiful I looked. I was in shock.. the words were flattering but the effort meant more. How many times do we see someone looking cute, but don't say anything because of our own fears.. If felt great and I would love to make others feel that way too!! I have kept and open eye to others and you have just confirmed this effort!! You're the best!

No Cool Story said...

1st of all: You are funny and you are kind.
Unless the person is an idiot, then you are not kind, but whatevah.

NOBODY said...

I love the stories/comments that have been shared!
Leslie: Good point about complimenting kids. I remember as a child "overhearing" my mom complimenting me to someone else. I will NEVER forget how that made me feel. I try to let my kids catch me complimenting them now and then. And thanks for the compliment on my blog. Come back soon. :)

Vasquezita: Good call on keeping your note private. You were a smart 14 year old. I LOVE "what you pay attention to grows". Thanks for sharing that. And nice Stand By Your Man reference. It wasn't missed on me...

Omar: You might confuse Nobo with your Hobo. Too risky.
The story about your teacher is a great point, even though you probably weren't trying to make one. I mean, you were what, 8? And what she said mattered. I need to remember that, particularly while talking to my children. The little pests...
I have to say, I'm a little disappointed that you aren't quick-witted. I think you are one of the funniest bloggers I "know". What a let down.

Tori-you made me laugh out loud. So beautiful you even turn bishop's wives gay. That'a girl!

No Cool Story said...

A lady in our ward wrote the following about me & familia:

"She is a slim, petite woman with long, dark brown almost black hair. She has large, beautiful brown eyes and a quick smile. I have never heard her raise her voice (HA!); she is generally soft-spoken. She and her husband, DH have two teenage children.
Their family appears to be quite close. On Sundays they generally sit snuggled up next to each other on a bench in front of us. They glance at each other with love in their eyes."

I was like "wow, really?". Our Bishop has commented on how he wathes us holding hands all the time and another person commented on Fashionista always standing next to me :)
I had never noticed, and that made me happy.

NOBODY said...

Sketchy 1 & 2: One of my talents is appreciating good food. And I like you. That is all.

Mommyj: I SO get what you mean about your husband saying that. It's sort of a little shock when you hear someone say, "I think you are smart and know more than how to wipe up milk spills and snot stains". Your writing proves you are that kind of girl though. :) And help yourself to the longest comment award. You're just a winner all around. p.s. your O.R. doctor, really? that's hilarious.

Rebecca: Thanks. :)

Sarah: I LIVE for that kind of power. Tell me more. Want to work out a deal, you can pay me to tell Jen some more things. I'm not above that at all. :) Thanks, by the way. My family LOVES laughers.

Jason: Get a life dude. For real.

Rebecca of Sunnybrook: You and me, we are like two peas in a pod. Only, you are skinny, hot, dress like a million bucks and paint your closets. Hmm, I can't think of anyone more completely opposite of me. But I like the way you think. :) You made a great point, exactly what I was aiming for. Those two people who complimented you could have gone about their merry ways and it wouldn't have been a bad thing. Taking the time is the difference. Now call me and tell me I'm beautiful. :)

NCS 1: You know me. That's because you are a good listener.

NCS 2: I love it! I agree with everything. You will have to PROVE to me that you are capable of raising your voice, I don't believe it.

omar said...

And then there was that time when you said I was a let down, that also had an impact on me.

S said...

A dear great aunt once put her arm around me (I was at most 10)on her swing in her back yard. I was so happy. She snuggled in to me and whispered "you know we are a lot a like" My heart swelled, she was awesome. Then she continued " we are both Jackasses"
WHAT!!!!! Never will I forget those wise words.

I ditto Sarah! You do say the right thing often. But.......but nothin NOBO:)

S said...

I just made 500 on Jasons site

Millie said...

Omar's "mime school" thing made me laugh.

Lessee... I can't remember any particular thing anyone's said to me that made a huge difference, positively. I know I have something, I just can't remember. I should probably keep a journal. ;)

But there have been things people have said to me that hit me so hard - not negatively, just with a lot of impact - that I can still remember what I was wearing when I first heard them say it. THAT has stuck with me.

glittersmama said...

Happy Valentine's Day

Breit mama said...

you know most of my stories..... But I especially remember the one where a certain nobody taught me how to be a better friend!

I hope that she gets as much comfort from me as I do her! :)

EarthBint said...

That was deep :-) About a month or two ago I was in a bad mood for some reason and I went into the changing rooms to get changed for PE and almost all of the girls were really hyper and happy. And my bad mood went in 2 minutes, Funny how them things work innit?

One of my favourite compliments (I hope it's a compliment :-)) is that I have the 'Smith sense of humour.'

Traci said...

I'm a sloth in getting to this conversation...What a great post.

It's a little unnerving to think how words can be devastating, words can be the beauty of life itself. There's something somewhere (maybe the scriptures? don't know...haven't cracked 'em open lately) about if you can control your mouth, you've pretty much got a handle on everything else. yeah, add a couple of thees and thous in there, and I'm pretty sure it was the scriptures that said that, exactly like that. Anyway, I think that's true.

This post is a great reminder.

You're cool.

NOBODY said...

Omar-Case in point. With responses like that, how am i NOT supposed to think you are quick-witted? The blog world doesn't show that you sat staring at your computer for 8 minutes before coming up with that response.

However long it took, it made me laugh out loud last night and I've been laughing about it all morning.

Lisa said...

I've always found your blog funny.
And Omar is making me laugh-who would think he wasn't quick witted?

A friend of mine said something nice about my husband. Something like you can tell how much he loves his family. He is always with us (unless he is working/traveling and then he isn't). The way she said it just made me feel very grateful for that love.

Barnecked Lady said...

NOBODY- you complete me! lol.

Sarah Tilley said...

once, when a lonely freshman band nerd i was stuck after school waiting for football game to start, all by myself feeling like a friendless troll, when a girl from church happened to see me moping on a bench. she actually came up to me and said hi and invited me to come over to her house and eat pizza with her and her boyfriend. it totally shocked me and though i felt completely awkward and pathetic, i accepted the invitation. i never really was able to express my gratitude, being the shy dork that i am, but i won't ever forget her small act of kindness/pity that saved me several hours of depressing solitude.

Carrot Jello said...

Happy Valentines Day!
My name's Michelle, awww.

Michelle Garff said...

How many Michelles were there on God's 10 acres???

Luisa Perkins said...

That was a great post.