Speak out: an ode to big mouths

I have a big mouth.

I always have something to say.

I suggest, offer, add, provide. I do it because I wish to help, motivate and inspire. It’s genuine, but I’m certain it annoys the crap out of many people, and often.

I do it for the same reason I became a teacher: to contribute. I hope that someday, a child will remember that teacher who told them they were ok, that they were doing just fine.

In my life, there are women, some strangers, who have had a very positive influence on me. They gave me what I needed at the exact time I needed it, when I didn’t even realize I needed it. I want to do for someone what they did for me.

They told me to trust my instincts

My friend and colleague Geneviève died of heart failure at age forty.  Although we didn’t see each other or speak much in the last few years of her life, there are many things she said to me when we worked together that still resonate with me. I remember calling her when my baby was a week old, exhausted because she was feeding all the time. Geneviève was a breastfeeding support person, yet she told me to give her a soother. When I asked her if that would be a bad idea in the long run, she said: “No one knows what’s best for your baby more that you do; you are her mother, after all.” She was very wise indeed.

They listened

A purple eyelid.

A purple eyelid.

The summer my daughter was twenty months old, she sat in her car seat that was perched on the front step of our house. It was there because my husband was cleaning the car before we left on our trip. As my toddler sat in it, it tipped backwards, making her hit her forehead on a rock in the front garden. The one-inch gash on her eyebrow spewed blood faster than I could cope with. We rush to urgent care; I cried as I registered her and sat down in the waiting room. An older woman who was sitting in front of me, reached out and touched my hand. “Tell me what happened” she said. I cried harder, recollecting the events of the last half hour. In that moment, it was exactly what I needed to make sense of it all and help with the excruciating waiting time. Eleven years later, I remember what that stranger did for me.  

They showed kindness, not pity

Seven years ago, when I was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, I got an infection. I was admitted to the hospital in one of those locked-away wards to protect people’s immune systems. I spent the weekend there, bored, but alive. When I was released on Monday morning, my husband and I had breakfast at Cora’s in Orleans. We sat at a table for two in the middle of the room, with two women sitting at the table beside us. I remember smiling as the server cut the hospital band from around my wrists. I also remember my table neighbour smiling at me. Although I looked sick, it wasn’t a sympathy or sorry smile that she offered, but an understanding smile. I think she understood how happy I was to have gotten the hell out of that ward. They left before we did, and when we went to pay, the server told us our bill had been paid. I don’t remember what they looked like, but I’ll always remember their act of kindness. If they had minded their own business, I wouldn't have that.

I often give myself grief for coming on too strong or for being too pushy. I’m sure I’m not alone. I’m working on holding back a bit, reminding myself that sometimes, the best way to contribute is to say nothing at all. But I also remember those women who made a difference in my life.

Don't be afraid to say or do something - to reach out a hand and listen; to say the hard truth; or to pay it forward. What you say to others, whether if be a friend, an acquaintance or even a stranger, may be that thing they remember forever.  

So don’t be too hard on your big mouth. I’m trying not to.

by Angèle Alain