Exchanging Words


“Use your words, honey.” The little girl in her mama’s arms is crying and frustrated. She quite clearly has something she wants her mom to know, but Mama can’t make head or tails of the sounds coming from the little tyke’s mouth. As I listen sympathetically, I am carried back to a time when I wish some words had been exchanged.
I parked my old 1955 Chevy in one of the empty parking spaces on the side street and walked around the corner to the music store, half a block away. I was pleased with myself, since I had remembered to park over here, where not many people left their cars. The time was over thirty years ago, when the music store was located in the downtown area of our little municipality. The angled parking spaces on the major road in front of the store were at a premium; especially so, since the Post Office was directly across the street from the business. That was in the days when the Post Office was the number one destination in town, but that may be a subject for another time…
A day or two before, my boss, who had recently also become my father-in-law, had asked me if I could find a place to park which wouldn’t take up one of the spots where the customers needed to park. Even though I wasn’t happy about it, I could see his point and resolved to do better. And, for a few days, it seemed that I had found a good solution. The side street wasn’t convenient for most customers, so they didn’t use those spaces. Then, a few days later, I noticed something a little odd.
It took awhile to observe it, but I started to see the same car parked, all day, right in front of the music store. I wondered who it belonged to, but thought little of it until one morning, when I was leaning into the front display window as the car pulled in.  It came to a stop in the same spot it had been all day for several days before. I watched the man get out and as he slammed his door, he turned to glare into the music store, directly at me. I recognized him as the owner of a business on the corner up the street. Now, why would he be parking up here? And, why was he mad at me?
Slowly, the light began to flicker and glow. Moments later, I had it! He was angry because the parking space I was occupying on the side street was beside his building. Not in front, but beside. I wasn’t taking a customer’s space, but I was parked in hisspace! I thought about it for a moment. I even considered continuing to park where I was and letting him stay mad, but my Mama had taught me to “do unto others”, so I went and moved my car. There were three empty spaces beside it, but I made sure to move to a different side street, this time, in front of a vacant lot. By lunchtime, the car in front of the music store was gone and sitting in exactly the space my car had occupied early that morning. He never parked in front of the music store again. Come to think of it, I never parked in his place again, either.
Did I get the message? Eventually. Was I happy with the man? Not at all. I still find myself wondering, even after all these years…What if he had just asked me to move my car?Why didn’t he? I’m pretty sure that I would have stopped parking there the first day, if he had just walked into the store and said, “I’d rather you not park there.” Communication goes better if someone says words. What if my Mama hadn’t taught me to “do unto others”? What if I had just continued to park where I was and he had done the same?
I’m pretty sure that this is how feuds get started. Two people are equally intransigent as they struggle to get even with each other. Soon, a situation, that a few quiet words would have settled in moments, stretches out into a lifelong disdain and dislike for each other. Friends and family are dragged into it as the communication which should have been spent on the other person is wasted in telling a one-sided tale. Does this sound familiar? It happens again and again…in families, in churches, in workplaces.
Words. With them, we build, we create, we maintain. And, once in awhile, we say the wrong thing and we destroy. The key is to keep talking. If destruction has taken place, the worst thing that can ensue is for silence to fall. I’ve said before that hurtful words can’t be unsaid, that they can never be taken back, and it’s true. But, if the hurtful words are the last thing spoken between two people, healing will never occur. Dialogue has to continue for any chance of reconciliation.
I love words. I love to use them. I’m assuming that right about now, you’re laughing as you say, “Tell us something we don’t know.” So, I will. I worry about the words I use. I’m almost obsessive, as I go back and read the words I have written over the last two years here. You see, I have a purpose. I want to influence those of you who read these words—to be wiser, and kinder, and to avoid the errors I have made. If I fail in that, the words have not accomplished what I arranged them to do.
Am I preaching to the choir? I hope not. If all I have done is to simply have you nod your heads in agreement, again, I’ve completely missed the mark. As the old saying goes, “If we agree on everything, only one of us is necessary.” You don’t need me to say, over and over, the same things that you have heard all your life.
I’m reminded that God once used a donkey to get His message through to His prophet. And, there have been too many times in my own past when He has had to use inanimate objects, or animals, or babies, or shopkeepers who refuse to talk, to get the message through my hard head. I’d like to communicate the message with a little more clarity and a little less drama than many of those events entailed.  I have words to spend and I hope to invest them wisely.
We’ll see if I can do as well as the donkey. I’ll keep braying anyway. You can let me know if the message is getting through.
Use your words, please.
“Even lifeless instruments like the flute or the harp must play the notes clearly, or no one will recognize the melody.”
(I Corinthians 14:7~NLT)
“Preach the Gospel always; if necessary, use words.”
(Anonymous)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.

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