With so much negativity in the air these days—it is an election year in America, and election years are poignantly negative—I might have decided to write a blog about how if you say something unscrupulous, it is quite possible to come back upon you at some point. In fact, even removing the word unscrupulous, the phrase might still work, and even if you reverse the valence of the verb—say if something bad happens to you—your words could still come into play, even after your death! Take, for example, the case of the Michigan parrot. Now that may sound like a new installment in the Sherlock Holmes series, but in fact it is a news story that broke very recently. Apparently a parrot overheard the last words of a murder victim and now has been repeating them for the police.
I can imagine the interrogation of the parrot at the police station, at least if it were to be anything like those old police shows that used to be on television—say “Hill Street Blues” or the like. The parrot is put in a chair and told to wait for a moment while the officer garners his clipboard. Two prostitutes awaiting booking are escorted nearby; the parrot inappropriately whistles and repeats “Sexy Lady” twice in a parrot accent. The interrogating police officer returns.
“Now,” he says in all seriousness, “Can you state your name?”
“State your name!” “State your name!”
“My name?” “I’m Officer O’Malley.”
“That’s right,” says the officer looking at his clipboard. “Now, I have here that your name is Polly.”
“Polly!” “Polly!” “Polly want a cracker!” says the bird, riffing off the memory trigger Polly, inducing the officer to provide a snack.
And so goes the conversation until the police officer brings up the tender topic of the murder, with regard to which the parrot spills the beans, recounting the details from his master’s last words necessary for a conviction. Who knows, maybe it will actually even come to pass, as this is a real story in the news these days (albeit not the preceding dialogue, obviously, between O’Malley and the bird).
As amusing as the cross examination is to imagine and as delightful it would be to construct, I will move on to the main point: what you say can be very important, for it can be remembered, in this case by a bird. But more often it will be remembered by a person. Yes, sadly, to return to the negativity of this election year, something deleterious that you say might be remembered, to your chagrin. But I prefer to reflect for a moment on the obverse of that same coin, for my wife and I had dinner last evening with two friends whom we knew some thirty years ago when we were living in Philadelphia. And some of the words they said had such a profound influence on us that we decided to share that with them now, all these years later.
John and Sarah are presently missionaries to India. They live in Delhi and work with struggling families, urban poor—they understand a movie like “Slum Dog Millionaire” in profound, first-hand ways. They have lived on the subcontinent for over twenty years now, ever involved in this or similar ministries to the poor. They gave up the happy, rich, over-stuffed life of the typical American to serve others.
Yet it wasn’t just their life and example alone that touched ours all those years ago before they were missionaries. It was their words, too. Words of kindness, words of challenge, a small study of the old and these days not-so-often-read book of Proverbs, rich wisdom literature. In the midst of that study of Proverbs there this couple was, having a weekly dinner at their house, chatting with us and a group about the fine points of living an honorable life, seeking justice and truth above personal satisfaction—seeking the very face of God, to honor Him in one’s life, not merely to fit Him in around the edges. Their words made a lasting impact; their words changed lives, ours among them.
I will close not with a recipe of how they did that but with a Proverbs-like, wisdom-literature-style charge: Consider the parrot. Your words provide evidence, in the case of our parrot, of “what actually happened that night.” Words offer evidence of what is in one’s hearts, what is in one’s soul. John and Sarah’s souls are rich and when we spent the evening with them last night, we again partook of that same richness that they had shared with us all those years ago, a richness that changed our lives and made our souls then, and now, the richer for it. Words and the lasting friendships they produce are powerful witnesses, inspired and inspiring. So, setting aside the negativity of this election cycle, I prefer to think of how words can promote love, preserve friendship, and inspire good character. Here’s to old friends and the words they bring with them, and to parrots!