Standing at about five foot nothing, my grandmother was a woman of few words. But her face, especially her piercing, slate blue eyes, spoke volumes. I don’t ever remember her saying, “I love you,” but I will never forget how her face lit up when my two sisters and I walked through her door. Or that she always had Juicy Fruit in the wardrobe. Or how whenever she took a notion to make something, there were always three of them. Her actions revealed what she did not verbalize. Her economy of words taught me that those who say the least often have the most to say, and vice versa.
Mindful of grandma’s reticence, I listened that much more carefully when she did speak. One day, while sharing a hurtful encounter with a classmate that rendered me speechless, incapable of producing a witty retort, she took my hands in hers and said, “Carolyn, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” That advice has saved me countless times from the pain of remorse. The regret from what is never said is so much easier to bear than the regret from what is.
Holding my tongue has provided the opportunity to observe that what a person says reveals so much more about them than it does about the person to whom they are speaking. The eyes may be the windows to one’s soul, but words are the mirrors of one’s mind. In these days of attempting to excuse hurtful, cruel, malicious, ugly talk with the simple justification, “I’m just saying what’s on my mind,” I can’t help wondering, what does that say about our minds?