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Pebble in the Water

By Sunsue Fleming

There were few books in my home where I grew up. I don't remember being read to at bedtime or any other time. Maybe I just forget. There was one book I found and read from cover to cover. It was a book of American poets. It became my bible. I fell in love with poetry. There was one poem that was my favorite. I read it often. I knew it by heart.

That poem circled back to me a few years ago.

After I retired, I began part time retirement work in home health care. About a year after I began, I was diagnosed with cancer. During treatment I continued to work. I needed to continue to help others to let go of my own drama for a while.

My client was a lovely woman who was held in love by her family. I felt held when I was there too. I stayed with her through hospice. Her last day, I drove through a snowstorm to get to her. She was unconscious and I sat by her bed and picked up a book to read to her. I opened it randomly and read the page. It was my favorite poem as a child.

At her service, her daughter, who I became close to, told me the poem printed in the order of service best described her Mom. It was my favorite poem.

This is the poem that I fell in love with as a child. I live on a pond now and often throw rocks to watch the ripples flow.

Drop a Pebble in the Water by James W. Foley (1874-1939), published in the bulletin of the Market Street Church of Christ in Athens, Alabama (1911)

Drop a pebble in the water: just a splash, and it is gone;

But there’s half-a-hundred ripples circling on and on and on,

Spreading, spreading from the center, flowing on out to the sea.

And there is no way of telling where the end is going to be.

Drop a pebble in the water: in a minute you forget,

But there’s little waves a-flowing, and there’s ripples circling yet,

And those little waves a-flowing to a great big wave have grown;

You’ve disturbed a mighty river just by dropping in a stone.

Drop an unkind word, or careless: in a minute it is gone;

But there’s half-a-hundred ripples circling on and on and on.

They keep spreading, spreading, spreading from the center as they go,

And there is no way to stop them, once you’ve started them to flow.

Drop an unkind word, or careless: in a minute you forget;

But there’s little waves a-flowing, and there’s ripples circling yet,

And perhaps in some sad heart a mighty wave of tears you’ve stirred,

And disturbed a life was happy ere you dropped that unkind word.

Drop a word of cheer and kindness: just a flash and it is gone;

But there’s half-a-hundred ripples circling on and on and on,

Bearing hope and joy and comfort on each splashing, dashing wave

Till you wouldn’t believe the volume of the one kind word you gave.

Drop a word of cheer and kindness: in a minute you forget;

But there’s gladness still a-swelling, and there’s joy a-circling yet,

And you’ve rolled a wave of comfort whose sweet music can be heard

Over miles and miles of water just by dropping one kind word.

Participants’ Reflections

  • Thank you. I just want to tell you how beautiful and rich that was. It felt to me like I was listening to a short story. It revealed how much of who you are in such an easy way. It just unfolded. It was so rich. Afterwards, I just felt that something in me released, I don’t know what. So I decided to do some heart breathing. Thank you so much.

  • That was beautiful. The pebble reminded me of something I do. I wave to every person I see when I do my morning walk. I’ve gone crazy in the last year. Now I also wave to the people coming up behind me. The reason I do it is to pay it forward and hopefully create a ripple. I do it early in the morning. If the first experience someone has is a pleasant one, hopefully they’ll pay it forward and make the wave go further. I used to work for home health agency helping, and I felt I was tapping into a broader energy flow by helping other people that way. I do think that energy flows in a circular pattern. One can benefit so much by contributing to it and receiving.

  • Thank you so much. That was beautiful writing and a beautiful poem. I had never heard it before. I thought of this group, how everyone is so loving and accepting and caring. We are like that poem. Whatever anyone says, it ripples out to all of us. We are holding each other in kindness all the time. Thank you very much.

  • Thank you. It feels like you are the epitome of kindness, the kindness pebble that has dropped into our lives. The rhythmic nature of that poem I just love. I glanced out at the ocean. The ripples do extend in beautiful concentric circles. In fact, they extend beyond our imaginings, they extend beyond the horizon that I see. Thank you so much.

  • Thank you so, so much. That was such a beautiful poem. I am a believer in the small way, the little smile, the kind act, the little word. It inspired me to ask myself if I can always speak kind words to people. I have a personal challenge to be aware of what I am saying, but then I thought about the thoughts and ruminations behind the kind words. Okay, can I practice that today going into my heart? So I’m challenging myself to practice kind word in my spoken words and my heart because that has energy as well.

  • Thank you, I have to respond to that. I loved the part about the kindness because I do believe that’s what makes the world go around. But then I thought about the things I’ve said that are hurtful, and the mean thought behind kind words. I started beating myself up for that. Then I thought I don’t have to go there. I can just focus on the kindness. And if I keep focusing on the kindness, then hopefully all will be well.

  • It made me think about the film The Butterfly Effect. That phenomenon, all those little things. Like if you made a left turn instead of a right turn. Just putting that into a positive light, how it triples in such small ways. I was driving the other day and saw a woman who looked upset. I picked up on her energy, it was strong. I could tell there was a deep sadness in her. At first, I was turned off by it but then I put out positive intentions to reverse the negative state.

  • Thank you, that was a beautiful poem and I loved the thoughts behind it and the story. I remember as a kid, my parents taught me the golden rule, to do onto others as you want them to do onto you. They also taught me that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. These are nice aphorisms to hear, but how does one actually implement them. How does one keep negative thoughts out of one’s head? I like to figure out what’s wrong with people around me, but I really try to practice letting go of that. It’s a challenge, but it’s worth doing.

  • That was beautiful. I loved the reading. I’m reminded of a time right after I got my driver’s license. There was a god-awful traffic jam. The cars weren’t moving. I had to be somewhere. Traffic is frustrating, it can anger you. I could feel someone watching me. I looked over and saw a gentleman to my left and he was smiling. He looked so happy. I turned away and thought he was an idiot. This is not fun, why is that fool smiling? I peeked over again and he was still smiling. I looked a third time and, without thinking, I smiled back. He looked at me and said, “but the sun is shining.” Instantly, my mood changed. It’s stayed with me all these years. A kind word, a smile, the ripple effect. I was thinking what a fool, and maybe I was the fool. It’s all in the mindset.

  • I am feeling the vessel that we are all sitting in and the wisdom that flows around and through it and the ripple effect and how we move with inspiration and emotion and respect. It is an incredible experience. Thank you. Thank you for sharing your story seen from your little kid to who you are now. It’s quite a rainbow experience.

  • The poem represents the wisdom of our ancestors.

  • It reminds me of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. There was a woman interviewed on television. I could feel her kindness. She was talking about her husband’s doctor. How horrible it was in the hospital and how the doctor had to make the agonizing decision who would be evacuated and who wouldn’t. I could tell that even if her husband hadn’t been evacuated, she would have felt the same way. All these years later, I’ve thought of her kind, kind heart.

  • Thank you, such a blessing that we start this first day of Spring with this overflowing feeling of kindness feeling the ripple effect. It’s a wonderful way to start this Saturday. I hope you all have a gentle day, breathing in kindness, ease, compassion, and love. Even our breath as we breathe out causes a ripple effect. We have an effect on people by our thoughts and our words. Thank you. I hope you all have a gentle day.

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