Last week was my grandfather’s birthday. After dinner, I ask Steve to call him and convince him that the girls and I want to sing Happy Birthday. My grandfather is almost completely deaf, but a really deep loud voice can sometimes get through to him. The only person in my immediate family whose voice fits that description is Steve. Steve dials the number and yells out my grandfather’s name once, twice, three times. I raise an eyebrow thinking if we aren’t getting through after three times, we should give up and send a card. Steve shakes his head and says “No – he’s talking to someone else” and hands me the phone. I think he means that my grandfather thinks it is someone else on the phone and am prepared to try and convince him that it is me.
When I put the phone up to my ear, I realize that my grandfather is in fact talking to someone else; I believe it one of his neighbors. I listen, thinking in just a minute he’ll tell this person to hold on a second and talk to me. My grandfather is talking about where my mother went to college and I smile a bittersweet smile thinking that today must be difficult for him since he shares his birthday with his only daughter, my mother. This is his first birthday without her and the first one without either of his children. Within a minute or two, though, the conversation takes a rapid turn and my grandfather is talking about me and letting this woman (who is a stranger to me) know all about what he thinks about me. It is not pretty; it is not kind. And I, like a rubbernecker at a accident, cant’ stop listening.
And with each word he utters and each response the stranger gives back judging a person she has never met, my spirit wilts a little more. After a few minutes of basically demolishing my character, my grandfather reveals his opinions about my husband which again are not exactly flattering (trust me, he obviously thinks higher of Steve than he does of me, but Steve isn’t exactly going up to the top off his list of admired people either). I hung up before he could reveal his opinion of my daughters; I can handle his opinion of me; I can handle his opinion of Steve. I was afraid of what I might do or say if I heard mean things about my girls being said to by someone who is supposed to love them to someone who has never met them.
I’m going to be honest here: it crushed me. I know I never should have listened in on a conversation when the people talking had no idea I was “there”. I know that eavesdropping isn’t exactly polite behavior and I would have been better off if I’d just hung up the phone immediately. That is on me. I also know that my grandfather is never going to change his opinion of me and would never regret what he said; possibly, he might regret that I heard him, but just as possibly, he might think it was good for me to “hear some truth”.
So, knowing there is no benefit in dwelling in my feeling of worthlessness, I thought about what I could possibly do to make something good out of this and I think I’ve found something.
I wonder how many times I’ve said something about someone that had they overheard me, my words would have wounded them. Hear this: I never want to make someone feel like I felt the other night. Never. Never. Never. So, I am going to start choosing my words more carefully. Before I speak, I am going to think about how the person I’m talking about would feel if they could hear me accidentally over a speaker phone. I will admit that I have not always been kind when I speak of other people. It stops now. I remember a quote I heard years ago:
“Great people talk about ideas; Average people talk about things; small people talk about others”
I don’t want to be great, but I do want to be kind.
And, this, from Proverbs is going to be my new mantra:
‘The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.” Proverbs 26:22
For me, this is true. I felt my grandfather’s words deep in the pit of my stomach for hours after I hung up the phone. The only delicious morsels I want to pass along are bites from some amazing recipe that I’ve cooked with love.