She gathered her children out into the backyard and showed them the lumpy, old pillows. She had ransacked her local Goodwill the weekend before trying to find them. They smelled musty, were stained and seemed a bit putrid but the kids hardly seemed to notice.
She handed them out and said "Now pound on each other!" She smiled encouragingly, "Have at it!" Her son's incredulous face and her daughter's blank stare made her giggle. "Go for it," she prodded, "swing them around! You can even hit each other with them."
Slowly her son's eyes showed dawning recognition and she got a bit worried. "Wait," she said, "hit me! Pummel me first!" He lifted up the yellowed, king-sized pillow she had handed him and as he raised it into the air she saw her daughter out of the corner of her eye lift hers, too.
There were feathers everywhere. She looked skyward through the giggles and shrieks of laughter and saw the raining, white snow of floating innards. It was magical. She turned her face up to them and whispered gently "Kind words, kind words."
"Okay team," she raised her voice, "clean up time!" Four round eye balls paused in mid-delight and looked around at the wispy piles all over the grass and at the gazillions of feathers still in the air coming down softly. "Clean up," she sang, getting on her knees and gathering up wayward feathers in her fists, "clean up..."
"All of them, Mom?" her son asked looking worried. "Every feather?" They tried for awhile and then she took them inside and gathered them up on the couch where she had eye contact. She told them the story she had heard as a child, how those feathers were like words. Whatever you said, whatever came out of your mouth, once it was out it was hard to clean up, impossible to stuff back into your pillow or your mouth. For better or worse, those words were now swirling around outside of you.
They had gone back out with big, black garbage bags and tried to salvage what plumes were catchable. But most just floated away the harder they chased and grabbed at them, eluding them completely.
It was days later that she heard her daughter telling the story about when mom taught them how important your words were with kind birds. "Kind birds?" she had interrupted. "Yes, Mama, remember? That's what you kept saying while we were laughing? Kind birds, kind birds."
So now she thought of her words as kind birds. Every time she opened her mouth a little bird flew out and depending on what she had said it would peck at someone and hurt them, or it would alight and bring pleasure. She loved that visual and it stuck with her.
Her words could be little kind birds.
(inspired by Made to Stick, a fabulous book that is changing how I approach teaching}
"I am learning that positive words hold much more weight than negative ones. We can create beauty in someone just by speaking it."
One of the more fascinating discussions I saw on the power of words was the movie What The Bleep Do We Know? The scene (I can't find it on youtube, unfortunately) where the molecules in several water glasses were altered based on words that were attached to them spoke profoundly to me. I don't even know if that was real or not - but I believe, and am coming more and more to understand, that our words literally create death and life in people. It's not just an analogy.
It is challenging everything in me. As a writer, teacher, mother, wife and friend.