Last weekend while we were driving home we took a break to stretch our legs and eat lunch. While we were waiting for our food, I witnessed one of the most uncomfortable interactions that has not left my head.
An extended family was out for lunch together. The parents were probably in their 50s or 60s, and they were joined by two sons with their wives, and a grandchild. It was immediately obvious that one son was the family expert, the one who everyone looked to, maybe because his opinions were so loud that no one else dared to express their own.
His wife gathered napkins and straws and sat down next to him while they waited for their food. He asked her a question, she responded, and the berating began. His ego was oppressive, his words cruel and unrelenting. She cowered at his tongue lashing, then turned her head and began to sob. It was terrible. He resumed conversing with the rest of the family as if nothing had happened, and looked shocked a few minutes later when he turned to his wife and saw her tears.
Miss A couldn't take her eyes off the woman, and I admit I was having a hard time, too. Seeing someone endure such verbal abuse made me want to hug her and let her cry and reassure her fragile heart that she had worth and that everything would be ok and that she didn't deserve to be treated that way.
Over the past week, my thoughts have frequently turned to the woman and how she might be doing. Is she still as shaken by her experience as I am? It made me think of a car accident. If this woman had been physically affected in an accident, her well-being would have been examined thoroughly by professionals, and perhaps even followed up on. The person at fault in the accident would receive consequences. But in this situation, none of that will happen for her. There is no doubt that the impact of verbal abuse was just as jarring to this woman had she been in a physical accident, but because her scars are unseen there is no exam to evaluate injuries and no one to check in on her progress.
Words are power. I've been thinking about my own words all week in all aspects of my life. When the husband and I married, I made a conscious decision in how I would talk to him. Belittling, unkind or harsh words have not entered our speech patterns with each other. We have protected our relationship from those types of interactions. I wish I could say that was true of all relationships in my life, because I think when you let that way of speaking enter it's much harder to remove it than it is to protect the relationship from those words in the first place. I am working on it with my kids, who receive quick reprimands more often than I'd like. But I know that I can improve, and that I can take the same approach as I did early in my marriage to protect those relationships from hurtful words. The words of Jeffrey R. Holland are a beautiful reminder to me of how my words should be:
"Our words, like our deeds, should be filled with faith and hope and charity, the three great Christian imperatives so desperately needed in the world today. With such words... tears can be dried, hearts can be healed, lives can be elevated, hope can return, confidence can prevail."