Sunday, August 24, 2008
Note: This is Mr. Weber's address to the JP II student body on August 25, 2008
We had grown up together as neighborhood friends—her parents were good friends with my parents---and so we had occasion to spend a lot of time as kids, swimming in their pool, running around the yard, riding bikes in the neighborhood. By high school, she had become quite beautiful, but she was painfully shy around boys—so shy that she came across as aloof, and even to others, as “stuck-up”. I knew it wasn't true--it was just shyness.
Sometime in the middle of my freshman year, as I was walking between classes, some of my friends were talking about her. “I tried talking to her” one said, “and she wouldn’t give me the time of day”. “Yeah, what’s wrong with her?” the other one said. “She never acts interested us guys." “Probably gay”, said a third. (Lots of laughter.) Wanting to fit in, I said, “Yeah, I know her family pretty well. She might just be gay”. (Lots more laughter.) I knew it was wrong, of course, but I was eager to draw a laugh.
The rumor started to spread around the school that she was gay. She heard the rumor—and even worse, that I had said it about her. She called me weeping and asked if I had said that. “I didn’t mean it” I said feebly. “I know it’s not true, I was just trying to be funny. I am sorry”. I could hear her weeping bitterly on the other side as she hung up the phone on me.
Weak. Truth is, I had been a coward.
We were never close friends after that. I had ruined a long friendship in a matter of 4 seconds, 11 words. “Yeah-I-know-her-pretty-well. She-might-just-be-gay”. 11 words. Once I had said them, there was no taking them back. You cannot unspill milk…the damage was done. I still regret what I did today, even though it was 30 years ago.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” We learn this little jingle when we’re kids, but it’s a lie. A HUGE LIE. A broken bone heals in a matter of months, but the hurt and the injury we can do with our tongues can cut right through someone’s heart. Words have the power to shatter, to devastate.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that words can also be powerful in building people up. Encouraging someone who’s having a bad day, complimenting a class mate for something he did that few noticed, or just being kind can have equally lasting effect. As clearly as I remember my own cowardly remark as a freshman, I remember a cheerleader –perhaps the most popular girl in the class—laughing at something I said and saying to me, “You’re really funny”. I wouldn’t have admitted it to anyone at that time, but that remark made a great difference to me.
With great power comes great responsibility. Yes, I know that’s Spiderman. But we all do have great power—the power to tear down, or the power to build up, and with that power comes a great responsibility.
I have always said that the measure of a great student body is the way they talk to each other and about each other. Let it be said about JPII students that you are courageous enough not to talk behind your class mates’ backs and generous enough to build each other up.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and God of all encouragement, who encourages us in every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage others." (2 Corinthians 1:3,4)