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just four words

The four most important words in my online vocabulary right now are:

I see things differently.

We’re divided in our loyalties.
We’re divided in our perspectives.
We’re divided in our politics
and that has proved to be divisive.

I knew these people before election day,
and I still know them now.
They are still good people,
helpful people, family,
friends and neighbors.

They work hard,
choose well,
and do the best they can
to get life done right.

Something has come between us.

This is what rancor does,
causing passion to forget
its better half has already

We may see things differently.

But the only four words
I want to have said
to anyone I say a final goodbye to

I love you, too.


Use Your Words

wordTwo kids play in the sandbox until one wants the toy the other has and helps himself. Dispossessed kid shoves the other to reclaim the toy. “Use your words, child!”

Happy family out to dinner and the time is getting late. Junior fidgets, whines then tantrums. “Use your words, child!”

Children changing classes through crowded halls. One shoves the other launching his books across the floor. His reward is snickers and laughter. “Use your words, child…”

What words?

Boys tease. Girls taunt. Don’t.
Friend shuns. Date advances. Hush.
Boss berates. Spouse lambastes. Quiet.
Neighbor is passive aggressive. Mute.
Gossip in lots of words. Nope.

What to do with our
Impatience, frustration, boredom, anger.
Words unused leave us with
Distrust, bias, hatred, vengeance.

“Use your words,” we tell them.

Learn to speak your feelings,
express your anger,
portray your emotions.
Because what’s inside is designed to come out.

Our human nature reacts.
Our instincts respond.
And our real-time world doesn’t wait for
us to craft the perfect expression.
It spits, fights and lashes out.

As it did in the sandbox,
at the dinner table and
in the school hallway.

If we don’t learn to use our words and
we don’t practice using our words,
we forget how to use our words.

Use your words to speak up.
…All voices matter.
Use your words to speak out.
…Justice demands to be heard.
Use your words to speak to me.
…I am listening.

Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely. ~ Psalm 139:4

Child, use the word I have spoken to you, spoken in you, and am yet speaking. Speak peaceably. Speak honestly. Speak respectfully. You know these words. They are mine as you are mine.

Every Country’s Native Son

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela has died at the age of 95 years. We knew it was coming, yet we still find it wrenching our collective guts. World leaders from around the globe are pausing in memory and providing words for a life lived fully. “A man,” as the President of South Africa puts is, “who had no unfulfilled missions.”

At the Virginia Film Festival in November I was privileged to view the film, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.” As a writer, I always come with a notebook and a pen, but in a darkened theater it is difficult to jot down ideas or good quotes. So moved was I, though, by his words spoken to close the film – the message of a life – that I found a small bench in the hallway and, fending off the throngs exiting past me, I sat scrawling frantically so I wouldn’t forget.

This is what I recalled to words:

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion, people must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” ~ Nelson Mandela

Mandela was the kind of man who made you believe. A man…

  • with every reason to choose revenge but chose forgiveness
  • with every reason to choose hatred, but chose love
  • who worked through the system to speak on and act in the truth he saw
  • who made the people see a way between extremes
  • who let kindness take its course
  • who insisted reconciliation have its day because it was the only way to freedom
  • who every nation today calls their favorite son.

As Pastor Trevor Hudson said of his countryman, “Even in his death, this man is uniting a nation.” And today that nation, though mourning, is also dancing in celebration. That is the African way: lively, colorful, rhythmic, festive, full of heart.

A particular moment remains with me from my viewing of the film. Black South Africans have just received the right to vote and Mr. Mandela is seeking election as their President. There is a line extending for miles in the distance of black South Africans executing their new right. At the front of this line a young woman walks into a small building, pushes her paper ballot through a slot in a wooden box, and exits the building shouting and dancing and singing. And the line joins her in her celebration.

In my hometown a couple of weeks later, I cast my ballot because of this woman. And I lament. On that day in Virginia, not a single voter, coming or going, even wears a smile. The choice we have is among candidates who have not distinguished themselves as honorable, trustworthy or deserving. What a contrast. Where has our life and vigor gone?

Today, we pause to celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela. A man who President Obama has said, “took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe toward justice.” Mandela was resolved, disciplined, dignified, smart, committed, and charismatic. He healed a nation. He was his country’s conscience. He said follow me and they did.

He was doing his duty for his people and his country. A duty for which he was willing to give full devotion, whatever the price. In his own words,

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” —Rivonia trial, 1964

Read other wisdom of Nelson Mandela here.

What a legacy lived and left for us all to live into. That “we are not born hating, we learn it. And if we can learn that, we can learn to love, which comes more naturally to the human heart.”

One man’s life healed a nation. Can the death of One Man heal a world? Nelson Mandela’s life renews my hope that it can, and it will.


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