Sunset Girl: How Words Matter

"Doesn't it make you sad that you cannot see sunsets?" I had just finished a speech and writing workshop for an eighth grade class on a recent trip. Immediately, this unnamed, tearful student became "Sunset Girl" for me, stepping out of that classroom and into countless speeches I will give in the coming months and years. I tried to figure out her real name after the girl was gone, but the teacher did not notice the conversation, and the school day was over. I don't need a name, though, as I know her heart, and that is more than adequate identification.

Why did Sunset Girl step into the array of individuals who people my many speeches? It was the rest of our conversation. It was the shuttering "thank you" she gave me as she walked away when our conversation was over. It was what she made me realize as I thought about her again and again and again.

*** Doesn't it make you sad that you cannot see sunsets?
*** I am sometimes sad that I cannot see everything. Sometimes I feel alone and isolated because I can't see.
*** Silence.
*** It is only sometimes, though, and it is not sadness about sunsets. You see, I had vision for long enough to remember sunsets perfectly. I know exactly what they look like. I can picture one right now. I will never ever forget sunsets. Do you know what does make me sad, though?
*** Silence.
*** I am sad for those who were born blind and can never know the beauty of a sunset the way I do and you do. They don't have any way to really understand that splendor. I am sad for them about that.
*** Thank you.

The slight movement of air as she walked away matched Nacho's slight movement as he put his paw on my foot, in seeming comfort. My travel companion told me more about Sunset Girl's welling tears. And I wanted her back. I wanted to finish talking. I wanted to say a million words that rocketed into my mind, but she was gone.

So this blog is for her, for all the Sunset Girls out there: those who feel life deeply, who sense another's pain as their own, who walk with burdens on their shoulders that get heavy to carry, who reflect on the deeper meanings of this life walk, who cannot live on the surface and sometimes suffer for that honorable inability.

*****

Sunset Girl, we can feel sad for others, and it is a gift we give them. We are saying that we wish better for them, that we so empathize with the place where they are that we ache for them. But, Sunset Girl, with your huge heart and creative mind, you and I have a job. In our place of knowing something that others do not, our job is to never cease trying to help them know. And we must use words to build that knowing.

Sunset Girl, fined your words, practice your words, and use your words to paint sunsets for those who have never seen. Use those words to give hope to those who have never hoped. Use those words to give beauty to those whose world is ugly.

As a teacher, I must use my words to help students learn. This year when the world is my classroom, my words must be bigger as my students do not necessarily sit in desks with textbooks. Sunset Girl, I must care for my words even more this year, like precious treasures. They matter more, and those who hear them may be near me for just an hour, then never again.

Those who need my words may be like you; they may be you.

Sunset Girl, you were here, and now you are gone. I used my words, and they reached you, far more and far more deeply than I could have ever imagined. It is my solemn responsibility as a teacher, a speaker, a writer to make my words reach people. You have reminded me of that responsibility. I thank you for the reminder. It gives me purpose and direction to be the user of words that matter. It will help me feel less alone and sad, which I do feel sometimes, to remember that my words can help people know things, sometimes my words and my words alone. They helped you remember the sunset and what it would be like to not have it.

Sunset Girl, blink back your tears, and look around for who needs your words. Finding that person will help heal your heart. It has helped do that for me, and our hearts are pretty identical I suspect, like the sunsets you and I see, right now. Bless you, Sunset Girl. You have blessed me.