Family Lessons: Watch Your Words

I have vivid memories of my Grandma Moa. I’d write the pronunciation for you but can’t seem to quite get it right. At any rate, I spent a lot of time with Moa as a child. Even when I got into my teenage years, a time when many pubescent hormonal lads are too cool for anyone, including themselves, I still enjoyed hanging out at her house. We did all kinds of things together. We tended to her four o’clock flowers, walked to the grocery store and back, and visited with her friend Beatrice. Moa never had a driver’s license, but she was fiercely independent. She loved to ride in the car. She said it was good for getting earth air, which meant the windows should be rolled down, and many times just before we were dropping her off she’d share that she could ride to New York. She exhibited a heightened curiosity when we were in the car, taking it all in as we traveled down the road. No matter how many times we traveled the same routes, to church, the mall, or the grocery store, she seemed to practice the same awe. She was curious about the world around her, and having a sixth grade education did not limit her way of living.

She read the newspaper cover to cover every day, and when she came to a word she was unsure of how to pronounce, she’d call a family member for help, spelling the word over the phone, and then practicing it by repeating what you’d said. She had the birth weights and stories of how she named each of her 10 children memorized, and she called in everybody’s birthday to the local radio station for a chance to win the dozen doughnuts they raffled off each day. I know everyone thinks their Grandma is special, but mine was clearly one of a kind.

Moa taught me to be intentional with my words. She had a number of sayings , but many of them revolved around using your words with care and intention. “Never say what you won’t do. Don’t talk about other people because you might be talking about yourself. The only way to keep a secret between you and someone else is if one of you are dead.” Moa knew that words, once said, could not be retracted. She was careful with what she said and would guard anything you told her in confidence as if you had died. You could be sure it would never be repeated. There were so many lessons in those three sayings. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to better understand the value of each of her wise offerings.

Moa was right. None of can be certain of what we won’t do, and that’s what I believe is at the heart living and loving in a way that doesn’t render judgement upon other people. Life is tricky and uncertain. Our interactions cannot be predicted and we can only hope to behave in a way that won’t result in regret. Our fragile state as humans doesn’t allow for us to use the word never when speaking about ourselves and our future hopes and dreams. We really don’t know what’s ahead of us and we’d be wise to not put ourselves in a box that later feels like a prison.

Moa valued trust. She’s honestly one of the few people I know in this world who actually could keep a secret. I don’t have any recollections of her gossiping about other people. In fact, when I’d call her and ask, “What you know good?,” her response was inevitably, “All on myself and I’m not telling.” She carefully chose her relationships and their depth. She didn’t offer depth to just those who were willing to listen because I believe she knew that humans needed people to listen, but more importantly to care. She clearly didn’t confuse listening with caring, and I recognize now that the two are not the same.

One of my goals as of late is to be present and curious. I’d like to be as curious as Moa was every time we were riding in the car, as if it were a brand new experience with lots to see and enjoy. I want to exhibit a curiosity in others that doesn’t wane when the phone buzzes, a cheer is heard from television, or the clock ticks. There is so much to take in when we practice curiosity with care. Questioning can indicate curiousness, but it’s not necessarily indicative of caring. It could be plain and simple nosiness, cloaked under the cloud of asking lots of questions.

Everyday I hope to notice something I didn’t notice before. Practicing curiosity with care can make me a better person, and hopefully a better daughter, sister, and friend. It means entering conversations with others with an expectation to learn something, no matter how regular the interaction. Moreover, it means being more curious about the world and people who I desire to connect with deeply, and carefully selecting those who demonstrate care as much as they do the ability to listen.

One of the most significant experiences of my life was being with Moa when she made her way to heaven. This February will be 15 years. I am still learning from her, and her words seem to come to me exactly when I need them. Her love, which she said we had just because we were hers, is something I value greatly, and something I want to give away to those who are curious enough to care even more in my lifetime.

Y’all be easy,


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