Little kind words with huge effects

Steve Burnette - Contributing columnist

Sitting home from work this morning — having completely lost my voice and waiting for this bronchitis to politely exit stage right — I was all set to drum up enough energy and tomfoolery to plod out a plethora of witty words and arrange them into a group of silly sentences.

Then some news came to me from my family in Maine, and now what was going to be 600 words or so of goof are headed elsewhere. I beg your forgiveness, but feel compelled to sail this word ship in a different direction today, hoping it might help someone, somewhere, along their way.

I started my job in September, but we decided it was best to keep our son in school in Maine this year — just in case I hated my new job, or my new job hated me.

Every day, from first grade through eighth, and even this year during his freshman year when back there, I drive my son to school. And as we approach drop-off I would tell my boy, “Pay someone a compliment today. A kind word from you could change their world. You never know what their home life is, especially on Monday mornings, what their weekend was like, what they might be escaping by coming to school. Be the young man people can run to, not one they run from. Your kind words could save a life.”

As any child would do hearing the same mantra day after day, year after year, you can already see the eyes rolling, eventually evolving to repeating over me, sometimes in a mocking fashion, and finally interrupting with, “Yeah Dad, I get it already, be nice and all that crap.”

And when I pick him up at the end of school many times I ask if he gave someone a compliment, to which he always responds, “Yes Dad”, in that very tone you most likely read this in.

Did he really ever do as I suggested? Half the time? Maybe 10 percent? Once?

A little more than a year ago we got a surprise visit at our house from the police. They asked if a certain young lady was anywhere in or around our house. We had no clue what they were talking about.

They then asked if we had a son that matched the name found in a text that this young lady sent to a friend, about running away from home to visit. I promptly called him downstairs to join in this surprise chat.

He said he knew her, but didn’t know anything about where she was. I offered for the police to take a look throughout our house and property, and I would assist. Later my son shared with us that this young lady runs away from home a lot, and he heard she had a crush on him.

This morning we got news that a young lady from Maine driving alone in the wee early hours veered off the road and slammed into a tree. She didn’t survive.

Her name was just released to the school about two hours prior to my writing this. Since he wasn’t out of class yet, and since I had no voice anyway, I texted my son to see how he was doing.

This was the first person in his life, aside from family, a peer if you will, that has passed away, and in such a horrific fashion. I can only imagine what must be running through his young head and his heart, and I wish I could be there to hug him and listen to him just in case he has anything he wants to say about it.

All I can do is hope the last time my son had any interaction with this troubled, innocent young lady, his friend, that their conversation was peppered with laughter and kindness.

Steve Burnette is Executive Director of the Murphy Theatre and soon-to-be, once again, with his family, a full-time Ohio resident.

Steve Burnette

Contributing columnist