This is a reprint of “Good News,” the weekly reflection written by Campus Ministry staff and students that is distributed at Sunday Masses at the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas.

By Brigid O’Neil, Dowling Hall chaplain

One afternoon I was sitting at a cafe in Guatemala City, with my sister, Peg, when she began to tell me a magical story. Peg is the teacher of fifth- and sixth-grade students at an inner-city school in Hayward, Calif. The story she had told me was of a 10-year-old boy who, through a very simple but powerful act, transformed an entire community.

The boy, Michael, probably didn’t set out to have such an impact (although my sister thinks he might have). He was just on his way to the school bus, like on any other afternoon, when he did something extraordinary. On this particular day Michael looked through the window and waved to the secretary, Mrs. Apperson, as he passed by.

Now this may not appear at first to be magical, or for that matter even very extraordinary, but what grew out of this simple gesture most definitely was.

The following day, Mrs. Apperson told my sister, Peg, what Michael had done and just how good it made her feel. She told Peg that she wanted to let her know how it changed her day, and what a good evening she had because of Michael’s wave. Peg thought about this throughout her morning and it also made her smile.

Peg decided to share this with the entire class that afternoon. She told all the children what Michael had done and how it had affected Mrs. Apperson.

Now to you or me this might seem cute, but once these children heard what an affect a wave and a smile had, it was like a magic trick they couldn’t grow tired of.

That day as they walked to the bus, all the kids waved to Mrs. Apperson. This was no small act. As a teacher, Peg had been given one of the greatest gifts. Before her very eyes, she witnessed the internalization of one profound lesson.

Peg took advantage of this teachable moment. She wanted to make sure the students truly understood the significance of what had just happened. She pointed out that one simple wave by one single person led to a sea of waves. The kindness multiplied. Their words and their actions were powerful. “Your words have power” struck a chord in these young people.

The following day Jessica came to school. It was apparent that she had been inspired by those four simple words. On her jeans she had written in big letters Your Words Have Power. That day, Jessica took a stand. From that day on, Ms. O’Neil’s fifth- and sixth-graders held each other accountable for their actions and their words.

It dawned on me that day in Guatemala — Jessica had the answer. If we could all understand it as easily as Jessica, imagine what we could do! Your words have power.

It is simple. From a smile to a hello, to a hug — the simplest gesture can make a difference. We need to live every day aware of our words and actions, both positive and negative, and realize the power they have.

The issues of the world, our country, our state, our hometowns, our homes,our campus, our rooms, our hearts and our minds can be confronted if we take a stand and say “enough.” Look into the eyes of those you pass daily and say hello. If you have the time and truly care, ask how they are. Be aware of your words. Speak them from the heart.

There is much to be said for an 11-year-old girl who already has the answer.

I have never met Jessica, but she has changed my world forever.

I am grateful for this breath of fresh air. Jessica has inspired me to share this story that we may all take ownership of our actions and words. Together, we must hold ourselves and each other accountable with compassion.

This is not your issue. This is not my issue. This is our issue. We have to start thinking before we act. We have to be compassionate. We have to respect ourselves so we may respect others. We must be compassionate with ourselves so we may be compassionate to others.

Your words have power. How do you choose to use your power?

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