The Right Words at the Right Time
I once was on the phone with a friend who told me it’s important to him to matter to people. I found myself thinking, “Yeah, me too,” in my mind when he said it. Later, when reflecting on this conversation, I realized that while it is important for me to matter to people – I definitely want to – I think what is more important to me is that I communicate and act in such a way that all the people who matter to me know it.
And this aligns with another concept about which I’m often thinking: the right words at the right time – a phrase inspired by a Marlo Thomas book from the early 2000s.
I think there are so many examples of the right words at the right time. It’s the colleague who takes the time – whether in person, or by quick text, or by longer handwritten note, or by email – to congratulate another employee on a new position. It’s the family member who took the time to comment on a Facebook photo, “Your grandmother would be so proud of you.” She had no idea that just a couple days earlier I was telling a story about my grandmother and what incredible timing that comment was – and how much it meant to me. It’s the friends who share links or quotes or whatever else with me, and say “This made me think of you” or “I know you will love this.” It’s the friend who sends me an email after a horrific situation and says, “I have been mulling and mulling over what I wanted to say to you about last night, and I think I’m struggling because no words seem quite right.”
That’s just it. The words almost always are exactly quite right because they’re being shared at all. All of these examples – and countless others I could offer – are all the same thing. It’s people saying “I’m thinking of you. You matter.” Those may not be the words used, but that’s the message I receive loud and clear. And, to me, that’s an example of grace. And I’m grateful for it whenever it happens.
I think we all get busy though, and it is hard to follow through with letting people know they matter and with sharing our thoughts. On the very morning I first started writing this, a friend texted to let me know she appreciated a card I had sent a couple of months earlier. She realized she had not said anything, and she wanted me to know how much she valued it. My response was a smile and a heart emoji, and that about sums it up. When we reach out, when we share our feelings with other people, it makes us smile, it touches our hearts and it reminds us that we matter – and that we have cultivated lives full of people who matter to us. I was glad to know she liked the card, and I was glad she reached out to me to tell me.
Last year, when I was on a vacation and only accessing email and social media through my iPhone, I saw an article I knew a friend would like. I emailed it to myself so I could remember to print it out and send it to him when I was home. (This is an older friend who doesn’t use email regularly.) Although I had the best of intentions and I prioritize this kind of reaching out, I totally forgot about it. It was not until months later that I was going through my email and I found the link. Oops. I still printed it out, wrote a note and mailed it to him though. I wished I had remembered it sooner, but the offering was the same: this reminded me of you, I am thinking of you, I thought this would make you smile – and there’s no time limit on those expressions. Just like my friend who texted me about the card I sent.
My life is busy, and I sometimes get distracted. This is true for all of us. I focus back though, eventually, and I don’t disregard what I wanted to do only because a little time went by. I still do it. That’s the important part.
So I think how people matter to other people is in large part through the right words at the right time. And those words – and gestures – that are shared every day in small moments, in person, by mail, online, through texting. We matter to people – and we let people know they matter to us – every time we say and we act in a way that says, “I am thinking of you.” And, when we do, we never know if that’s just what the other person needed to hear, if it was indeed the right words at the right time, or if it was a more fleeting uplift. Either way, I think it’s one of the best investments of our time we can make, and it matters – and it’s often how we matter to other people.