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Barbara Walking in the Valley
A weekly column for those who live and walk in Silicon Valley

by Barbara Dahlgren


Apples of Gold
Column for the weeks of August 16-31, 2005

Three lady friends and I were out for a night on the town. We were going to dinner and then the symphony. What fun! After dinner we shared an elevator with a middle-aged man. We chatted with him and found out he was headed for the symphony, too. Since we were within walking distance but not sure which way to go we said, “Great! We’ll follow you.” He good naturedly replied, “That would be like the blind leading the blind.” There was dead silence, the kind that only lasts a second but seems like a lifetime…since my friend Rose is blind. It was apparent by the man’s expression that he wanted the earth to open and swallow him up.

I knew the feeling well because I’ve had my share of verbal faux pas. I long to be the one speaking “apples of gold in pictures of silver” (Proverbs 25:11) but that precious word so fitly spoken seems to elude me. I have blooper-itis. “Kids say the darndest things” but we adults can give them a run for their money.

I’m reminded of a story I heard about a woman who went to the produce section of a grocery store and asked to buy half a head of lettuce. The produce guy seemed perplexed but said he would check with the manager. He went to the back of the store, found the manager and said, “Some idiot wants to buy a half a head of lettuce.” He turned slowly to find the woman had followed him. He then added, “And this lovely lady here would like to buy the other half. Would that be okay?”

I’m afraid I don’t think that quickly. I consider myself a reasonably intelligent person but I tend to have these brain-freeze moments.

Once a neighboring church choir came to sing for our congregation. I thanked a man for coming. He looked at me blankly and said, “But I attend church here with you.”

At a family conference the speaker encouraged us to meet someone new from each age group every day: a pre-teen, a teen, an adult, and a senior citizen. I went up to the first woman I saw and said, “Perhaps I could meet you and you’d be my senior citizen for today.” She looked offended and replied, “Perhaps you could, but I’m NOT a senior citizen.”

One time I even forgot the name of my best friend when I was introducing her to someone. The list could go on and on.

Then there are those thoughtless statements we wish we could suck back into our head. They aren’t meant to hurt. They’re mistakes, faux pas, blunders, slips of the tongue. We know they are wrong the minute we say them but it’s too late.

Like the time I was having lunch with a group of women. One of them asked how I was. To which I jokingly answered, “Fine! At least I’m not pregnant!” I had no sooner gotten the words out when I remembered she had just had a miscarriage. For the first time I knew the meaning of dead silence….the kind that only lasts a second but seems like a lifetime. I wanted to die. I said, “I’m so sorry. That was such a wrong thing to say.”

Then a miraculous thing occurred. This gracious lady touched my hand gently and said, “No it wasn’t. It was just the right thing to say, for you. I don’t want people feeling uncomfortable around me.” Her statement made the awkwardness of the moment dissipate.

Usually we think of the word fitly spoken as advice or encouragement. But to me, true “apples of gold” is this ability to turn an uncomfortable situation around by simply saying the right words.

Words are powerful tools.

Some written words have influenced the world. When Abraham Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe he said, “So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this Great War!” He was referring to the Civil War and her controversial book, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Darwin’s Origin of the Species introduced the theory of evolution. Rachel Carlson’s Silent Spring brought public interest in environmental pollution. Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking motivated leaders. Robert Frost’s The Road Less Traveled made us think. Hitler’s Mein Kamp successfully incited people to hate, while The Bible encouraged them to love.

Some spoken words can be just as powerful. Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” inspired us. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” influenced us. Churchill’s “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…” evoked confidence during World War II. When George Burns said, “Say good night, Gracie” it made us smile.

As for me, I’m a simple person. I’m not out to change the world. I would settle for being able to set that other person at ease so they don’t have to feel like as big a fool as I do sometimes.

It would be great to give a list of “how not to make a verbal faux pas” like: listen to a matter fully before you respond, think before you speak, and keep your mouth shut. We all know that stuff. The truth is, everyone, which includes me and you, is going “open mouth and insert a foot” occasionally. When we do, it would be nice to have someone like my blind friend Rose around.

When the man good naturedly replied, “That would be like the blind leading the blind” and dead silence occurred, Rose didn’t skip a beat. She laughed and graciously said, “Oh, you want me to lead then, huh?” The man sighed and we all laughed.

Now that’s what I call “apples of gold!” We can learn a lot from Rose. Maybe if I hang around enough of these gracious people, some of it will rub off. One could only hope!

 

 

Be sure to visit this page often to read the next edition of Walking in the Valley. You can write to the author at bdahlgren@wcgsouthbay.org.

 

 

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