Magic Words

2mhane

Painting by Jacob Hane

‘Twas the week before Christmas
And all through the house,
The children were screaming –
And they’d frightened the mouse.

Well, I’m afraid that’s as far as my memory will let me get with rhyming. So I’ll have to tell you the rest as a story. OK?

Sometimes, when children are screaming, it’s good screaming. Sometimes you’re just so happy or full of energy or overflowing with good feelings that they come out at full voice. And if everybody else is doing the same thing, well, it just gets louder and louder, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, on this day, in this house, the screams weren’t happy screams. The kids were screaming with anger.

They’d reached the point – you’ve been there, right? – where they’d forgotten what they were mad about. It was all just yelling and name-calling and sorrow and rage now. Lots and lots of screaming.

One of the children went in search of the mother, who had sought a place at the far side of the house in the (forlorn) hope of escaping the screaming din. The child, with some difficulty because of the way tears and indignation combine to disrupt a coherent story, demanded that the mother come and stop all the rest of the children from being jerks.

“Well,” said the mother, “why don’t you just use the magic word?”

The child had some experience of this, however, and would not be put off by this ploy. With folded arms, a tossed head, and (I’m afraid) rolling eyes, the child informed the mother that “Please” had already been tried and the other children were still jerks.

“All right,” said the mother. “Why don’t you try this one?”

Leaning over, she whispered softly and briefly in the child’s ear. The child’s face went through the contortions of surprise and puzzlement, but recognizing that this step had to be taken before anything else happened, the child made the trip back to the other side of the house and the screaming room.

The screaming, I have to admit, continued.

But a few minutes later, one of the other children appeared before the mother with the same complaint. Once again, she whispered a few words into the ear, and the child exited her room, with a face filled with surprise and doubt.

The screaming continued, but with somewhat less volume.

One by one, all the children made their way to see the mother, and one by one returned with the same whispered instructions. Finally the last and littlest one seized her hand and would not let go until she, too, made her way to the surprisingly quiet screaming room.

The children were no longer screaming. They were repeating their magic words, sometimes one after another, sometimes overlapping each other, sometimes all at the same time. Their faces held the surprise that had overwhelmed them some time ago when the screaming faded away.

They were all saying, “I love you.”

I can’t promise that those words will magically end any of the screaming matches you find yourselves in. I can definitely tell you that it’s worth trying: It’s worth trying to say them, and it’s definitely worth trying to live up to them.

As for the mother, she smiled.

This story takes its inspiration from one told in my hearing some years ago by the Rev. Dr. Ronald Brown, senior pastor of First Congregational Church UCC in Southington, Connecticut. I haven’t found that story available online, but you’ll find Ron’s wit, wonder, and wisdom on his blog.

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