The Power of Positive Words

By | January 24, 2018


Joe was a seventh grade student who was adopted by an affluent family in town. He had come from Columbia and was given every advantage for a successful life. In his heart though he carried the pain of his adoption.

He yearned to know who he was and he felt on some level that he did not deserve the gifts that life was offering him. He also had a learning disability that interfered with his academics. Despite his problems, Joe could write, and write well.

Somehow we made a connection, Joe and I.

One day he asked if he could speak to me. We sat out on the field of the school at recess and he confessed to me that he was very depressed and was thinking of suicide. Our school protocol insists that this information be processed through the guidance counselors, but I knew that if I waited one hour, I would no longer have Joe.

Against school policy I called his dad and said, “If you want your son tomorrow, get him to the hospital tonight.” Joe’s dad got him the help he needed, and Joe continued on.

He struggled through high school, but through it all he wrote. He would come to visit me at the middle school periodically. His family honored me by inviting me to his graduation from high school and they toasted me at dinner, saying I made it possible for him to get through.

Joe went away to college. One night I got a call that he was in trouble. Drugs and alcohol had found him. He was asked to leave. We sat in an all night diner trying to assess the damage and put together a plan. I suggested that he get into therapy with a friend of mine. He did, but they reached an impasse. I offered the therapist a poem that I had written about Joe.

I had a habit of writing poems about my toughest kids, partially as a catharsis for me, partially to find the hidden truth of each of them. My friend shared the poem with Joe. The next day he came to my school with a rose for me. My poem had made the breakthrough.

A few years have gone by with no word from Joe. Recently on my Easter break I got a call.

“Hello Mrs. P.”, said that familiar smiling voice, ” I am in Florida, back in school. I just wanted to tell you I got 4 A’s and a B. I was thinking of you because I just wrote a paper about the poem you wrote me and got an A on it. It is in a frame hanging on my wall.”

— © Lu Pierro

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