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Words

This is about words—the spoken as well as the written, their power as well as powerlessness.

Words, even when spoken or written innocently, have the power to hurt feelings or to provoke anger. They can start a row in a household, a misunderstanding between lovers, or even a war among nations. We all know how sharp words can cut into one’s being like a knife. How many times have we regretted the words we spat out in a burst of emotion or wrote in jest without meaning to harm?

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Fortunately, words have power in both negative and positive ways.

A heartfelt “I am sorry” can soothe offended feelings. Words of endearment like “I love you” or “You are beautiful” can please a loved one. And a sincere “Salamat” or “Good morning” can make a difference in the day of the security guard at the office, the elevator boy, or the street sweeper one meets daily.

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We Christians know how God’s words in the Bible have the power to inspire or instill faith, hope and love. A simple “God loves you” or “May God bless you” to a stranger who annoys us can do wonders. Words can also initiate healing and peace even among sworn enemies, as in “Please forgive me” or “I forgive you.”

Of course, husbands and wives know that the two words “I do” have the power to unite minds and hearts forever in a wedding ceremony.

Parents and grandparents know too well the power of words spoken by their child or grandchild for the first time. I was happy beyond words when I heard the word “Papa” from my eldest child Pizza for the very first time some 36 years ago. And hearing my eldest grandchild Nicole call me “Lolo” for the first time just melted my heart!

For believers, words create, as when God spoke in the first days of creation: “Let there be light…” God’s word also saves, as when “the Word became flesh to live among us and become one like us, except sin.”

But words can also be powerless, as when silence is called for and must take over a situation. This happens specially when we are confronted with another person’s tragedy or grief. Then, we are at a loss for words to say. Our words lose their power and we must simply remain still, silent…

I remember an incident one night some years ago, when I was an intern-chaplain at a hospital in Honolulu. I was called to attend to a Filipino Catholic family whom I had met in my rounds earlier. The caller informed me that the father had just expired after a massive heart attack. She requested me to attend to the wife and the teenage daughter who were both distraught.

I raced to the ward and found the wife in tears, silently praying the rosary. The daughter was beside her, sobbing and saying, “Why now, Dad? Why so soon? You promised to attend my graduation!” I approached them and, at a loss for appropriate words to say, gently held their shoulders while they wept. This scene went on for what seemed like eternity to me. When they calmed down, I invited them quietly to pray with me.

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The next morning, mother and daughter came to the office. They were on their way home after having finalized matters with the hospital. They wanted to say goodbye and to thank me for being present with them the night before. We hugged one another without saying a word. At that moment, I knew that I could not say words like “Do not grieve, he is in a better place now.” I knew I had to let them grieve, that they needed to grieve. And I also realized that as far as they were concerned, the better place for their loved one was to be there in flesh and blood with them…

Words can be powerful, but in this case, words are powerless.

Danilo G. Mendiola, 75, is retired from corporate work and now serves with his wife in the Marriage Prep Ministry of their parish in Quezon City.

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