On Second Thought: A kind word goes a long way

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 19, 2023

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By Marie Harrison

For the Clemmons Courier

After years of watching her older brother run and cheering him on at countless cross country and track meets, my youngest child is finally in middle school and finally part of the cross country team.

This child couldn’t have been more excited to step outside for practice and run miles upon miles in the blistering heat because she was finally part of the team. And this child has put in the work. She’s run more than the recommended times between practices. She has pushed herself to go faster despite the pain.

This kid has approached running the same way she approaches everything in life: by giving it her all. And at the most recent cross country meet, I cheered her on at the start line and then sprinted down the hill to catch her at the one-mile marker before she headed into the woods to finish the final mile. And from the start of the race, she looked strong. She got out ahead of the pack. At the mile marker, she was second on her team, pushing hard and strong up the hill, all smiles, headed into the woods. Seeing her doing well, I went to the finish line to wait for her to complete the final mile and emerge from the tree line.

I was prepared to cheer her on in a sprint to the finish, a PR time for sure, and I waited. And waited. Runners began emerging and finishing, but not my daughter. More and more runners finished the race, but no sign of my runner. I checked my watch, looking for the race time. She should have finished by now. But there was no sign of her. What happened?

And finally, after much too long, another group of runners emerged from the woods, and I could just make out my daughter. She was running, but much slower than I had seen her run before. What was going on? My daughter finished the race slower than expected but still at a pace much faster than I could have ever gone, and as I went over to congratulate her, I saw it. Her entire left leg was covered in blood from the knee down.

The insides of both legs and arms were caked in mud and scrapes and bruises. Quickly, the medical team at the race pulled her over and began pulling out antiseptic wipes, band-aids and water. It turns out, deep in the woods, as my daughter went to pass another runner, she fell victim to a tree root. Uneven ground cost her footing and caused her to go tumbling. From the looks of it, she took a pretty hard fall. Hitting the ground unexpectedly at the speed she was running must have hurt, and yet, despite the blood, despite the mud, despite the pain, she jumped up, dusted herself off and finished the race.

My daughter was quick to admit that the final mile was hard. Trying to run through the pain of the fall and breathe while also crying was not ideal, but she did it. She finished the race. She didn’t give up. She was determined. But her determination isn’t what struck me most that day. After we had cleaned her up and she had hobbled over to get a snack, her coach came running up to her. You could tell from her face that as he approached, she was worried she had let him down, finishing lower than she should, with fewer points for the team, but that was not at all what the coach was thinking.

As soon as her coach showed up, his first questions were about her health. “Are you OK? Do you need anything?”

And once he was assured that she was indeed fine, bruised and banged up, but otherwise OK, his next words caused my daughter to smile.

“Running must be in your DNA,” he said. “That was a tough fall, and it didn’t stop you. I am so proud.”

I wish I could have captured my daughter’s smile on camera. Those few words magically erased the pain. Her spirits were instantly lifted. She allowed herself to feel proud of what she had done. A kind word sure does go a long way.

In all his wisdom, King Solomon knew the power of kind words. Proverbs 16:24 says, “Kind words are like honey, sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” And those kind words from her coach were indeed sweet like honey. They were all my daughter needed to heal her mind and her body that day. A few simple words of encouragement made all the difference.

Yes, there were still band-aids and bruises and cuts, but none of it mattered anymore. Kind words have the power to not only lift us up, but to heal our brokenness and our sadness. And seeing firsthand the power of a kind word only convinced me all the more that I need to be vigilant in doling out words of encouragement. You never know what someone is going through and how the power of a few simple words could change their whole day. Honey may be sweet, but sometimes the right words at the right time are even sweeter.