Words are all I have, to take your heart away
—The Bee Gees

Many people do not realize the power words have over all of us. The words of politicians, religious leaders, businessmen and women, lawyers, scientists, medical personnel, and news commentators, to mention a few. So many use words every day to pitch a point, to seal a deal, to drive home an idea, to infiltrate our minds with gangrene like garbage. Words have been an important part of my life for decades, but most significant was the lack of words not uttered, barely muttered, on May 28, 1952.

I had just begun my teaching career in Stamford, now Niagara Falls, at a school to be built in the spring of ‘53. It would be named after James Morden. I was sharing a small bed-sit with another beginning teacher from Lindsay, Ontario. I had met the boy of my dreams. Life was good!

That evening when Don came from Welland to visit we sat silently, watching the softly playing TV, an anticipated show about to begin, a novelty for us in the ‘50s. The muted glow from the tiny screen, cast upon my sweetheart’s face brought joy to my young heart. Suddenly Don withdrew a small, beautifully wrapped parcel from his pocket.

“For me?” I asked. He nodded.

I quickly scooped the treasure from his hand, ripping carefully to reveal a small black box. Once more I glanced at Don. Again he nodded so I opened the box slowly, my heart pounding wildly.

There, nestled on black velvet sat a small, exquisite, diamond solitaire. Turning to face Don, I asked one last time, “For me?”

“Yeah,” came his reply.

“But it’s a diamond…”

“Yeah,” he mumbled.

“Does it mean what I think it means?” my 19-year-old self asked.

His head held down, he softly whispered, “Yeah.”

We hugged. We kissed. I cried. Don laughed, in relief I am sure. We made plans, dates, people to tell, places to live…we were on a roll. Through it all, I chatted, Don listened. It has been that way for nearly 69 years. As I have always said, Don is a man of few words but that day they were…the right ones.

Before, during and after our marriage in 1953, I taught school. Teaching was always one of my serious passions. As a beginning teacher in 1951 my ultimate goal was to share my love of reading with my students. Words and their eloquence were my absolute love. I vowed to teach my first class of 42 Grade 3 boys and girls the beauty and potential of words. I would demonstrate how their throats, jaws, tongues, teeth, and yes, their brain’s left hemisphere, could help with speech and the formation of words. Then we would place our sounds on paper and read them back as words, phrases and sentences.

How simple it sounded to me, an experienced, adult reader. I loved to teach reading skills. I think I just loved to teach. Soon I realized not all kids loved to read, couldn’t read, wouldn’t read, or feared reading and words as much as I loved them. It then became my daily task to find topics which interested each student. This eventually lured them, like birds to the feeder. From teaching regular grades I followed my instincts, took the necessary courses and became a Certified Specialist Special Ed teacher.

I returned from my maternity leave to teaching in the mid ‘70s. It was in this new climate I became a Learning Resource teacher. Here, my love of reading and words in particular was of significant help to my many students at four different schools I visited. Reading establishes the groundwork for every single subject.

It is my fervent hope that during this long and endless siege our children are finding comfort in books, stories, articles jokes, cartoons, poems—everywhere you find words. Reading can be pleasurable alone, or online. With friends or curled on the couch with your mom, dad, brothers or sisters, or even your pets. Just read!

While words can lift us up, elevate us, bring us peace and comfort, even heal, other words can do immeasurable harm. Once, long ago at a parent/teacher interview, a distraught father brought his young son, my student, in with him for our meeting. Why? So that I, the teacher, could also tell the young lad how “stupid” he was.

I looked deep into the father’s eyes and said, “That is never a word I would use in school or anywhere. You have a wonderful child who tries his best every day.”

I could barely spit the words out. I realized how little this father really knew about his son. His fears for the boy were a driving force, but his words were like daggers to his boy’s gentle soul. I have never forgotten that father’s words.

So choose your words carefully. Once spoken they may never be erased. Words are only sounds strung together. It is their meaning which gives them significance.

In closing I thank you for sharing my thoughts and words. During this battle that we all are fighting in our own way, words are more important than ever. They are essential to our wellbeing and a positive way of life. Our young people hear the War of Words waged every day on their cellphones, iPads, TVs, and in our streets and neighborhoods. Is this the dialogue and legacy we want to leave for future generations? Are these hateful, wanton words all we have to give? Or can we use our words to banish all our pain.