“A Few Good Words,” June 19, 2023

This column is from 2022.

What are your favorite words? What’s the best thing anyone has ever said to you? What’s the best thing you say to others, and maybe need to say to yourself?

Words matter. They make a difference, good or bad, whether spoken or left unsaid.

Think of some words that have changed your life: “Yes.” “No.” “I do.” “I won’t.” “Help me.” I’m sorry.” “I love you.” “Goodbye.”

I recall countless times when saying those words marked a fork in the road that took me in a new direction. Can you recall times like that, too?

For more than 30 years, I’ve been privileged to work as a writer, and I never cease to be amazed by the power of words.

Do you ever read or hear something you wish you had written or said? I do that most every day. I come across words that are so profoundly good I want to keep them forever. So years ago, I started a file I call (drum roll, please) “A Few Good Words.”

It’s a hodge-podge collection of dozens of quotes and more than a few poems that I like to think were written just for me. Whenever I take time to read through that file, as I did just now, I find myself nodding and smiling. And for a while, my world becomes a better place. Here are a few of the words in that file that speak to me. I hope they speak to you, too:

– “Esse quam videri.” That’s the official motto, adopted in 1893, of my homestate, North Carolina. It means, “To be, rather than to seem.”

-“I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.” — Robert Frost, from “The Lesson for Today.”

– “The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” — Audrey Hepburn.

– “I have mean dogs and they will bite you.” — Kiowa Waters, my great-niece at age 5, warning her California cousins not to mess with her. I’m tempted to post it as a sign in my driveway.

– “The time is always right to do what is right.” — Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

-“If it’s your job to eat a frog, it’s best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first.”—Mark Twain.

– “I’m a writer, but then nobody’s perfect.” — writer Billy Wilder, in a nod to the last line of “Some Like It Hot.”

– “To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone.” — Reba McEntire.

– “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It’s a waste of time and it annoys the pig.”—Lazarus Long.

– Whenever I’m invited to speak at an event, I try to heed this wise advice on speaking by national security advisor Anthony Lake: “Think of yourself as the body at an Irish wake. They need you in order to have the party, but no one expects you to say very much.”

– Two quotes by Johnny Cash: “Trust gets you killed, love gets you hurt and being real gets you hated.” And “All your life, you will be faced with a choice. You can choose love or hate…I choose love.”

– Two quotes by Oscar Wilde: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” And “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

– Two quotes from Mother Teresa: “People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered; forgive them anyway.” And “Peace begins with a smile.”

– Here’s a Bible verse I learned as a child from my granddad, who was, among many things, a Baptist preacher. This verse, like his love, has seen me through a lot of hard times: “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” — John 16:33.

– Finally, I don’t know who said this, but it’s a strong contender for my epitaph: “Here lies a woman of whom it was said, her sins were many, but her columns were read.”

Words matter. What do you need to hear? What do you need to say? Here’s wishing you and yours a lifetime of good words.


  1. CHope Hall says

    Such wonderful word. I have a notebook beside me always & write interesting phrases, advice, thoughts, etc. It is referred to often. I always am sure to say good night, rest well, & I love you to my husband of 62+ years every night. I always hug & tell our kids to keep safe, God bless, & I love them when they leave after visiting. Before repeating to anyone something I’ve been told I ask myself is it true, is it kind, & is it necessary? Your words of wisdom are so true. Thanks for sharing them. God bless & keep you. Your article is always eagerly waited for & read asap. Please never quit sharing them. As always, Hope.

  2. Garnett Zamboni says

    Sharon May I have permission to put your column “A Few Good Words” with your name and date on my Facebook page. I have many friends whom I believe would find this touching and insightful. I know I did.
    Have a beautiful week. Garnett Zamboni

  3. Katie Musgrave says

    Good words! Keep on writing and I will read them. ❤️

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