My little fingers took a desperate tug at the folds of my mother’s work-worn dress. Her head and eyes were finally focused in my direction. Yet my head was down.

In the small amount of time that I’d been a citizen of this world, life’s worth all seemed to boil down to one important point. My mother must know that little Rochel loves her. I shot my gaze to parallel hers, and let the words crawl from heart to tongue, in the hopes of it reaching not only receptive ears but the heart. I said it. “Mommy, I love you more than anyone in the entire world.”

But I only have one mommy. And I love no one just as muchHer face wore the expression of one whose humility surpasses her greed for praise, and I wasn’t sure if the compliment found its full mark. Her response? “I love you more than anyone in the entire world.” Verbatim. “But mommy,”—I wasn’t finished. “You love all your children just as much as you love me . . . so that can’t be possible. But I only have one mommy. And I love no one just as much,” I reasoned.

This theory might have garnered some bewilderment and contemplation, but she had her response already cooked on the burner, ready to serve. “But the love I have for each child is unique . . . ,” she threw back.

“That’s quality differentiation, but the quantity stays the same,” was the gist of my response, albeit said in a child’s dialect. “But I still love you more than anyone in the world,” she insisted, defying the logic I had so carefully worked up.

This short but heartfelt dialogue I held with my mother, she repeated to my father. It touched and humored them both. My father took the anecdote of this seemingly non-earth-shattering interaction and delivered it over to his mother, my grandmother. It left her inspired, as family bias might typically have it.

Scheduled to go to a wedding of a friend’s granddaughter, my grandmother joined in the wedding spirit, and, in socializing with her tablemates, struck up conversation with one in particular. Mid-conversation, she relayed the “story,” if you will, of her granddaughter’s uninhibited love for her mother, and the words with which my emotion found its expression.

The effect of this conversation was later explained to my grandmother through the telephone wires. “You see,” the woman emotionally exclaimed, “you told me this story. But you were not privy to the sad reality that my daughter was not on speaking terms with me, the woman she calls ‘Mommy,’ and hasn’t been for years now.”

The soundless tears welling up in this mother’s eyes could almost be heard through the receiver. “In your mind, what you told me was simply a sweet story.” She then continued to explain how, in fact, this story had empowered her with the versatile tool of inspiration. Her heart made its way to the telephone and into her daughter’s ear. Luckily for this relationship of love lying dormant, the words found their receptive location. Her daughter’s heart had now become the place this now mutual love could call its home.

My youthfulness halted in this moment of pleasant shockThis turn of events found its way back to the source of its turnabout. And my youthfulness halted in this moment of pleasant shock. My jumprope tumbled from the grip my now-limp hands once had on it, and suddenly each word I said held more weight then I ever intended or imagined. And strength was not required to carry them. The most weighty words seem to be able to lift off the heaviest burdens from the suffocated heart. And I turned around in a swift swivel and pronounced: “I love you, Mommy”—and, knowingly, she winked.

In Ethics of Our Fathers we are taught to be careful what we say, for you never know who is listening, and who might be affected by what you have said.

In the above scenario, I might have assumed that I had it all figured out: I tell Mommy I love her, she reciprocates in kind, and we have a happy pair of people who feel loved.

But, in hindsight, I had the privilege to experience and discover how through a few heartfelt words, someone across the world has now been reunited with love and affection—something I never could have conceived of.

On the flip side, with a single word of contempt, some heart across the world—or perhaps in the next room, but not privy to your knowledge—has felt a firing squad of spite burning his pride, ember by ember left for your feet to crunch on, and the sound of it reaches your ears too late. The insult, even unintentionally biting, has left your mouth, and in turn, left its mark.

Let’s hope we can all try leaving indelible good marks, using this powerful tool we humans were endowed with, that of the word. And let us hope that every word shared is a word of wisdom, a word of hope.