Seated at the front desk for the outpatient area of the hospital, many people wander up to the glass window - inquiring about wait time, appearing lost, or asking for coffee brewing on the counter nearby.
Often I enjoy brief and friendly conversation, but something happened one day to remind me of how carefully we must guard the tongue, and one even greater - to live a life that speaks louder than words.
The woman tossed a wisp of her long blond hair back over her shoulder as she approached the window.
“Can I have some coffee?” (the classic question.)
I turn away from my desk to the coffee maker. “Sure. Cream and sugar?”
“Just cream.” She grins through widely-spaced teeth. “Thank you honey.”
I return the smile.
“When will my mom be back from surgery?”
“She’s in the recovery, so it shouldn’t be long,” the nurse nearby looks up from a stack of paperwork.
The lady wipes her lips with a finger and motions. “Good. I’m trying to stay out in the hallway until my mom gets back from surgery. “That woman” back in the room is driving me crazy - rigid, crabby old thing. You know how they get, ya know?”
I am silent, returning her gaze.
“‘That woman’-” the nurse turns to me. “Isn’t that her aunt?”
I nod. “It is. And I know who she is speaking of.”
When the reputation of her relative lay cradled in her hands, she did nothing to preserve it’s dignity. And the rest of us are too easily influenced, easily prejudiced when a rumor hits our ears or insinuation pulls at a heart-string.
Thirty minutes later, I bring clear, cold ice to the room where the surgery patient has returned. Both family members are present, and my eyes brighten when I see the familiar, pleasant face of a quiet woman sitting in the corner.
She is elderly, with close-cropped white hair and tired wrinkles creasing the lines of her care-worn, yet hopeful smile. We talk for a few minutes, and my duties call me elsewhere. I wonder what the daughter, coffee still in hand and silent at the moment, is thinking now as she stands nearby. She would do well to guard her words more carefully next time.
I happen to know that one day, that this ill-spoken of woman risked her life to save a drunk driver from a burning vehicle. She suffered for months, healing from burns without so much an ounce of gratitude or thank you from the victim. I have seen her take two grandchildren under her wing and struggle to raise them in this turbulent world of electronics and peer pressure. I have often heard her heartfelt, tearful prayer requests on the behalf of her unbelieving family and friends - and I’m sure this niece is one of them.
I know the one spoken of, and the testimony of her life speaks louder than words.
My mind today - and for many months now - resonates with two distinct pleas:
Be your brother’s keeper.
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.” Proverbs 18:21
And when others speak ill and your good name is slandered when your best effort has been made to pursue the right course: may the testimony of your life be a greater witness.