Nearly 40 years ago, when I first experienced symptoms of what I later learned was scleroderma, I found myself exhausted. There were plenty of logical explanations. I was in entrepreneurial mode, trying to launch a statewide news service for four NPR affiliates, and running myself ragged. I wasn’t sleeping well. My first marriage had just broken up, and I was struggling with a deep sense of failure. My gut was reacting to all the stress, and I was losing weight.
Fortunately, I had found a strong community in a local synagogue, and the mother of one of my friends offered to take me in and help me get back on my feet. She was a blunt woman, but she was also kind and a good cook, and after a week in her home, I began to regain my strength. And she told me this: It doesn’t take long to wear yourself down, but it takes a long time to build yourself back up again.
I have thought of those wise words many times since.
Of all the things I’m grateful for this Thanksgiving, I’m particularly grateful that in America we can express ourselves freely. But that freedom comes with profound responsibility. Words are powerful. What we say to each other and how we say it matters. It has become alarmingly clear that words can all too easily destroy what is best about our country, and it will take a long time to restore what we’ve already lost.
I hope the conversation around your dinner table is replete with all the respect and empathy so absent in our national dialogue. Each of us needs to be heard, but each needs to listen, really listen, too. That’s where true healing begins. Happy Thanksgiving.
Image: Scott Webb