There are so many amazing kids in the world. I was reminded again just how precious encounters can be with them. I got to spend a little bit of time with one amazing kid not long ago at the Children's Hospital where I work.
E. is seven or so and he is interested in the world around him. He and I had a great conversation. I was grateful to talk with him and hear what he was thinking. I guess that’s not unusual for kids who spend half of their days in the hospital. They are used to talking with grown-ups. Some grown ups they like. Some they don’t appear to have much energy for. With many of these kids, you can tell pretty quickly. When I stopped by to check in with E, I was honored to be in the “not so bad, I kinda even like her” category.
E said it was ok for me to sit down, and soon we started talking. He told me he was having a “not-very-good day.” He told me about a test he had had earlier and that he really didn’t like it very much. I told him I hadn’t ever had one of those tests and asked him to tell me about it. For most of it, he was asleep, but the parts he remembered weren’t any fun. Somewhere along the way I told him that I thought he was a “swell kid.” Well, that got us going.
E told me he didn’t know that word and he didn’t know if it was good thing or a bad thing to be swell. His mother, who’d be listening and I exchanged smiles and I tried to tell him what swell meant. And pretty soon I realized that “swell” was an old word and not used much anymore. I talked about it being in the same group as “good” and “nice,” but different. I said that if I heard a boy or girl described as “swell,” I would probably like them before I even knew him. It was a conversation I’m not sure I would have ever had with anyone else on the planet except E. And I knew (and I hope he did, too) that I enjoyed our talk from start to finish. It was the highlight of my day. I still carry it with me, days later.
After we’d kicked that can as far down the road as it would go (another expression for another day), I started to take my leave. I asked if we could talk about another word the next day, and he said he wanted to. So I asked him what the word should start with. He thought for a minute and said “E.”
The next day’s conversation was about the word “Earnest.” E was in "school," so I shared the word with his parents. Now there’s pressure. they asked me to write it on the white board, so E could see it later. Talking abut something is one thing, writing it on the white board meant that it was gonna be up there for all the world to see for a time. So, I wrote the word E A R N E S T. The next thing I wrote was something like: even though it has “ear” and “nest” in it, earnest doesn’t mean either of those things. (So, what did it mean?) “Deep truth.” “You are talking with somebody and you are being as honest and kind to them as you can be.” (His Mom nodded, so I thought I was at least in the ballpark. – Yes, another expression for another day).
And so it went for me and E while he was staying in the hospital. “Wonder” was another fun one I thought about. "Courage." "Tolerance." I don’t know about E, but thinking about what words meant to seven-year-olds was a gift to me. It was so apparent that what mattered most for me was right in front of me. They were moments when I was aware that I couldn’t do everything, but I could do something. They were instants when we listened to and for one another. They were moments of sharing Sacred Words.
Sometimes the Sacred Words we are seeking are the ones being spoken all around us. The gift is to be paying attention, so that we don’t miss them.