The Power of Words - An Inspirational True Story About a Young Man
The Power of Words - An Amazing Story
It was in the 1970’s that I met a young man with brown wavy hair, sad green eyes and a mouth that never seemed to smile. His name was Edward and he stood a little over 6 feet tall. He presented a mood of quiet, shy and almost pitiful demure.
Edward had enrolled in a music theory class that I was teaching at a beautiful CaliforniaCommunity College located in the small, sleepy town of Moorpark. Beautiful green rolling hills landscaped the small College and the newly built music department was constructed in a complete circle. I was proud to be on staff, offering a variety of music classes after working very hard to attain a teaching degree.
Being a single parent of three children was a mixed blessing. They were the light of my life and reason for getting out of bed each day, but struggling to feed these adorable three and going to school to get my teaching degree was about the hardest thing I had ever done. But – I did it.
The first day of class as students mill around as they decide which seat to take is always interesting to me. Some are confident and more aggressive than others, claiming the front row for themselves. Other, less confident fill up the middle section and the back row is usually reserved for the shy students, and even for those who do not want to be here in the first place. This is my own observation and there is always the exception.
It was hard not to notice the only six-foot boy, Edward, as he walked into the classroom a few minutes late and positioned himself in the back row. He slumped into his chair and lowered his head with his arms folded across his chest in a defying manner. This would be his general entrance into class for the remainder of the semester.
As weeks progressed and tests were given, Edward did not do well. He managed to turn in homework which was marked way below his ability level with my notes. He never participated in the class discussions or offered to answer any questions.
To my knowledge, he had no friends at school. Sometimes, during lunch, I would see him sitting on the grass, under a tree, munching on a sandwich and staring into space. On occasion, I would allow myself to join him on the grass and see if I could start up a conversation. I had this gnawing feeling that I needed to know him better, but at the same time stay professional and not allow myself to get involved.
As Teachers, We Can Change Lives
Moorpark College Where I Met Edward
Listen to Your Heart, Not Your Head
Edward rarely talked to me or to anyone. He would nod his head up and down or side to side for a yes, or a no. Never-the-less, I continued to take an interest in Edward in hopes that he would open up to me.
Edward missed too many classes and when he did come, he carried himself like an old man as though he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders. However, one morning, as class was ending and students filed out, Edward shot me a quick glance and I swear that I saw the beginnings of a smile appear.
The more positive interest I showed in Edward, the better his grades became. The semester was winding down, finals were about to begin and I worried about Edwards reaction to his final grade. He was the last one to finish his final exam and as I waited, I said a silent prayer for him. I so much wanted to be able to give him a good grade.
In those days, I had a reputation for being a strict, but fair, grading instructor. I also had the largest enrollment of students in the music department. It was important that I live up to my reputation. Yes, indeed. I would do it by the book, so to speak. I planned on following the teacher's handbook. I would make no exceptions.
Finally, Edward finished the exam and he looked completely worn out and defeated. As he approached the exit to my classroom I wished him good luck and told him I would be giving out the final grades on Tuesday morning at 9:00 a.m.
My thoughts continued to lead me to Edward and the final exam that he struggled with. I had trouble sleeping that weekend. Somehow, I knew that the grade that I would give him would be a turning point in this young man's life.
My Meeting With Edward
Tuesday morning finally came. I made breakfast, fed the children and helped prepare them for school. There was a mountain of laundry, dishes to do and beds to be changed before I headed out for my classes. None of that seemed to matter. I was a teacher and I had a responsibility to hand out final grades today.
Grades were based on classroom participation, completed assignments, exams, and attendance. Edward would be no exception. He would be given the grade he deserved. Perhaps he needed to learn the biggest lesson of all – to be responsible for his own actions. I felt good about my decision.
I sat in my office looking at the long line of students waiting to meet with me to receive their final grade. I allowed one person at a time to come in, take a seat, close the door and prepare to be “judged”. After each student left my office, I would take a peek at the line to see where Edward was. After an hour or so, the line became shorter and still, there was no Edward. I began to worry. Did something happen at home to delay him? Was there an accident on the way to school? Maybe he was stopped by a policeman? Perhaps he is sick.
The last student in line met with me, received their grades and left.
Where is Edward? Shall I wait a little longer? Am I fooling myself? He is not coming. I felt disappointed but decided to lock up my office and go home. I had done all I could. But something deep within continued to gnaw at me. I felt sick to my stomach. My eyes filled with tears.
What is wrong with me? I took some deep breaths, sat back and closed my eyes. In front of me lay the papers, the final exam for Edward. I had not decided what kind of grade to give him. Well, it didn’t matter as he didn’t show up anyhow. I looked down at the exam with his name printed on it and saw an imaginary D as his final grade.
You're an "A" Person
I got up from my chair, gathered my things, and closed the office door behind me. As I reached for my keys to lock up my office, I heard footsteps. I held my breath as I turned to see Edward standing behind me. He apologized for being late and asked if I would please give him his final grade. I hesitated for a few seconds, then cautiously opened the door and asked him to have a seat.
He looked just terrible. His eyes were sunk with dark black circles under them and the hollows of his cheeks were drawn. His swollen lips were cracked with dried blood in the creases. His skin was pale and his hair matted. He was wearing the same clothes he had worn for the last few weeks.
“Would you like some water?”, I asked him. He replied “No thank you,” as he sat trembling. Then he spoke to me in a low, trembling voice.
“I know that I'm getting a low grade on my final. I realize that I haven't been participating in class and that I am an embarrassment to others. I'm a lazy, selfish, stupid and an ugly no-good-for-anything person. I have no place on this earth and what’s more, no one can ever love a person like me. I am a hopeless case with absolutely no future”.
I could not believe my ears. I wanted to interrupt him, to convince him that he was none of these things. Instead – I let him talk. I listened with my heart and not my head. I fought back my own tears to manifest my strength and professionalism.
When he had finished, I faced him, looked directly into his very sad eyes and said, “Edward, your final grade is an A”. His reaction was one of total and complete surprise. “You are giving me an A? Me? Why would you give me an A when I did such a poor job in class, on my assignments, and on my final exam. Why would you do that?”
My answer to Edward was this. “You may appear to be a D student, but you are an A person. I believe in you now and I will always believe in you. I am here for you now and I will always be here for you. Never, ever forget that. Now, go and create the life you dream of. Believe in yourself. I will be watching. And by the way Edward - I love you”
In all my years of teaching, I have never graded a student this way.
The Goodbye Note
Later that evening, as I prepared to go to sleep, I began to question what I had done. Did I make a terrible mistake? Had Edward filled the room with lies just to win me over and get a high grade? Had I been had? Was my level of compassion playing tricks on me? Finally, my exhausted mind and body gave way to a deep sleep.
At 3:00 a.m. the phone rang. In a fog, I tried to sound alert as I answered it. The voice on the phone asked me if I were Edwards Music Theory and Piano Teacher at MoorparkCollege. I told him yes and waited. “I am a priest from Edwards’ Church and I have something to tell you.” I want to thank you on be-half of Edward’s family and myself for saving his life today.”
The Priest went on to explain to me the events leading up to this phone call. Edward has an older brother who has always been angry because he is short in height, although scholastically a high achiever and excels in sports. This brother has always been extremely jealous of the 6-foot frame of Edward and has belittled and verbally abused Edward most of his life.
This treatment has caused him to have severe low self-esteem and a miserable existence. Edward thought of his brother as his hero and wanted desperately to please him. I am not sure what role the parents played but I get the impression they were wrapped up in their business and had little if any, time for the boys.
Treat Everyone As if They Are an "A" Person
I learned that the day Edward came to meet with me, regarding his final grade, he had left a note on his pillow. It read: “ I am sorry that I could not be the kind of son and brother you all wanted me to be. All I ever wanted was to be loved. I am sorry for being unlovable. I will go now…you will find me in the closet. I am sorry for any inconvenience I have caused you. Please have my body cremated. My small savings is in the top right-hand drawer of the dresser. “
Edward wrote that note prior to meeting with me. His plan was to see me one last time before taking his own life. When I gave him an A, it represented to him that I believed in him and that I loved him and would be here for him. At that very moment, something changed within himself.
He had never heard those words before and it gave him a glimmer of hope. This is all he needed. He left my office feeling positive and uplifted for the first time in his life. He felt so good, he decided to take a long walk in the surrounding hills around the music department and re-live the confirmation he had just heard. He was loved…yes, someone in his useless life loved him and believed in him. He forgot all about his plan to do away with himself.
Meanwhile, his family found the note, went to the closet in Edwards room where they found a rope hanging from the rafters.
His closet was carefully prepared as the last thing he would see before dying. A large photograph of his brother was mounted on the wall, in view, from where the rope was hanging.
Give Words of Hope to Others
Never Throw Anyone Out
The late Audrey Hepburn said it best: “People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Never throw out anyone.”
How do we restore and renew someones thinking, especially when thoughts are directed inwardly? It begins with our choice of words as we engage in conversation. Even one positive, encouraging word can powerfully influence someone's life.
I've put together this list of words so that you can incorporate them into your everyday talk. Always be sincere when giving another person hope and encouragement:
- Honor Harmonious
Give Others a Word of Hope
Oh, the power of the spoken word! We never know but what we say and the way we say it might completely change someone’s life.
Edward re-enrolled in my Music Theory and Piano Class the next semester. He worked hard, tutored other students in the class after school 3 days a week, and this time passed his final exam100% and got a genuine A+.
Today, Edward has a beautiful wife and 4 sweet children. He is a successful Dentist in Southern California and donates his spare time to abused children, helping them to find love, acceptance, and hope.
Many of the most important and life-changing moments of my life have occurred during times that I have been a teacher. The lessons I have learned have formed my character and shaped my destiny. Without them, I would be a very different person and in a very different place than I am today.
Words have the power to destroy or heal. When words are true and kind, they can change the world. Budda
Practice saying kind words to others by first saying kind words to yourself.
Questions & Answers
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© 2010 Audrey Hunt