Lasting Impressions

How much does a falling leaf weigh?

Leaf_concrete

Found on a sidewalk beneath some trees, in passing.

This one made quite an impression. Its mark is embedded in concrete, destined to be there for a lifetime at least, or until the sidewalk crumbles. Who would have thought this possible?

And yet, there are other marks we make that will last for a lifetime, even though they may be invisible. They may mar and weaken, even though we can’t see them. Sometimes we may be completely unaware we have made them. The words that left the mark may be long forgotten by us—but perhaps not by others who heard them.

There is an incident from my sophomore creative writing class that still haunts me morfe than 50 years later. The teacher required us to in our stories or poems or whatever the assignment anonymously, and then other class members would read them, without knowing who wrote them, and comment. That day it was a lovely poem about a woman the writer obviously revered. The words reminded me, a budding photographer, of a beautiful photo I had seen in a magazine ad—something one would not have expected to find in an advertisement for laundry detergent. I commented with some admiration that it reminded me of a soap ad—but with 19-year-old bravado, I tried not to sound emotional because I thought I needed to maintain a certain level of macho. A few minutes later in the discussion, I realized the young woman across the aisle was crying. She raised her hand and confessed that the poem was so heartfelt because she had written it about her beloved grandmother. Cool, I thought. I also had a beloved grandmother and felt she probably deserved the same kind of praise.

It was quite literally years later that it came to me one day why that young woman had probably cried. My words, meant as guarded admiration, may have sounded instead like harsh deprecation. And I have wished for many years since then that I could find that woman and tell her how beautiful and meaningful that poem was to me. I have prayed to the Lord to comfort her if she still carries that memory, to help her to know that she touched hearts with her words.

How many times through the years have I said something similar that might have had a hurtful impact while I walked away unknowing?

I have tried never to use labeling words when talking to a child or grandchild, my spouse or others—words like “You’re so _________________,” or “You always ________________,” or “You just can’t stop . . . .” And yet as I write this, I look back on other times when I did exactly that.

If only I could recognize all those times and take back my words or provide some emotional or spiritual balm! (I have heard that Brigham Young once advised his associates never to chastise anyone beyond their own ability to provide balm for the wound.)

All too well, I know how those words can leave lasting impressions. I still remember the student teacher in my eighth grade shop class who told me, “You make my life miserable.” I remember the high school friend whom I dumped because he called me a hypocrite; I was too proud to admit that he was probably right. For years after that shop teacher’s remark, I accepted the idea that I was probably clumsy and inept when it came to any kind of handwork, and as a high school senior I lost a friendship that might have strengthened both our lives.

Many times I have prayed that the Lord will show me how to build other people up. Often I have prayed that He will comfort them where I have failed or inadvertently caused hurt instead.

May He apply to them the grace I would like to ask Him to extend to me. May I never again make deep, damaging marks in someone vulnerable and impressionable.

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