Earlier this week, my ten year old daughter popped her head into my home office to report, “Mom, I think I figured out why I’ve been having so much trouble with piano lately!”
“Tell me,” I replied.
“Well, I noticed that whenever I play a wrong note or make a mistake, I usually say things in my mind like That’s bad or You’re no good or Ugh, this sucks. Today when I was practicing and made a mistake, instead of telling myself one of those negative things, I tried telling myself something positive.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Like, You’re getting better all the time or Everyone makes mistakes or You’re learning something and doing great.”
“And what happened when you did that?”
“I tried again and was able to do better and eventually got it. And the practice felt a lot more fun and I wanted to do it longer. We learned something about this in school, but I didn’t know it would really work.” She looked at me with a big grin on her face and said, “I feel proud!”
A few days later, we were eating dinner together and she told me a story about something that had happened at recess in school. One of her friends wanted to approach some girls to ask if they could all hang out as a larger group instead of two smaller groups.
“That was really brave of her,” I acknowledged to my daughter.
“Yeah, but it didn’t turn out so well and my friend was really upset. Mom, she was saying stuff about herself that just wasn’t true, and I felt so bad.”
“What did you do?” I asked.
“I told her, That’s not the girl I know. The girl I know is kind and caring and always wants what’s best for everyone. I feel so lucky to be your friend.”
My daughter's stories brought to mind this poem that I wrote to a friend years ago. I remember that when I was writing the poem, I felt as if a gentle presence was by my side. It almost seemed like the words were being narrated to me and I was writing them down. And that the words were not just for my friend, but for me as well, and perhaps for all of us.
This week has brought me many powerful reminders about the ways in which words matter. As neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett writes in Seven and a Half Lessons about the Brain, many parts of the brain that process language also control major organs and systems in the body. Words can change our biology, which I think is pretty magnificent.
Usually, when a poem comes to mind to share it's because there is something in it that I need to remember, and I always hope that something in it resonates with you. Today I wish that you find a gift for yourself in this poem, and that you feel inspired to offer a kind word to the people in your life, whether friends or family or strangers, and especially to yourself. There is so much intensity in the world right now, sometimes it's easy to overlook who we really are and the small gestures of kindness that can have a big impact.
Some Things I Wish For
(From Within My Illusions)
I wish that you knew
How important you are.
Not because of anything in particular,
But just by being you,
Your pure-hearted presence
And soft-spoken truth.
I wish you understood
That your strength
Lies not in pushing against,
But in that subtle grace
That moves you through each day,
The surprisingly wise things you say
When you think you are saying
Nothing at all.
I wish I could hand you a mirror,
And that in the reflection
You’d see your perfection.
I wish that you could see yourself
Though my eyes.