Regret. Guilt. Sorrow. Each nibbles at memory's edge over an incident that took place more than half a century ago.
This is what happened: On her way to school, a little girl walked past the home of her next door neighbor. She liked him. He was kind, jovial and compassionate. He told funny stories that made her laugh and fixed whatever toy she had broken. If she could find one fault in her neighbor, it was that he teased children. Although it was harmless teasing, she did not like it one bit when he called her by ridiculous names he made up.
From his front porch that particular morning, the neighbor called her one of those silly names as she walked by. In no mood to put up with his teasing, she shouted, "Stop it!"
His laughter made her even more upset. She scolded him in a way that only a little girl can scold: "You're mean! I hate you!" She stormed off down the street in a huff of childhood indignation.
Within the hour, her neighbor lay dead.
When the girl returned home from school that afternoon, she saw a lot of people standing on the front lawn and on the porch where her neighbor had sat that morning. She asked what was going on. It was then that she heard that her neighbor had shot himself.
Since no one else was at home when he died, the little girl came to an obvious conclusion: "I was the last one he saw." Inconsolable, she cried and cried.
Even though she was very young, she realized that the last words he heard on Earth were hers, and they were not kind words at all. She wished she could take them back. She was sorry about what she had said. She regretted that she had said he was mean. She was sorry she had not told him that she really didn't hate him and that, in fact, she liked him a lot.
Decades have come and gone, and she is a woman now older than her neighbor was at the time of his death. Many other incidents of childhood have dimmed, but the memory of that one moment remains vivid. Regret has a long lifespan.
So does kindness.
As the Great Exemplar, the Savior spent His mortal ministry performing acts of kindness. He searched out the lonely and downtrodden, ministered to the sick, enriched the poor, strengthened the weary, comforted those who grieved.
Kindness is one of life's greatest consolations and rewards. Like mercy in Shakespeare's "Merchant of Venice, "It is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes" (Act 4, scene 1).
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve said, "Kind words not only lift our spirits in the moment they are given, but they can linger with us over the years.....Kindness is the essence of greatness and the fundamental characteristic of the noblest men and women I have known. Kindness is a passport that opens doors and fashions friends. It softens hearts and molds relationships that can last lifetimes....Kindness is the essence of a celestial life. Kindness is how a Christlike person treats others. Kindness should permeate all of our words and actions at work, at school, at church, and especially in our homes" (April 2005 general conference, Ensign, May 2005, p. 26).
A hymn serves as a gentle reminder:
Oh, the kind words we give shall in memory live
And sunshine forever impart.
Let us oft speak kind words to each other;
Kind words are sweet tones of the heart (Hymn No. 232).
We never need to repent of kind words we've spoken, or regret kind deeds we've performed. We shall not weep at the death of a loved one or a casual acquaintance because our last words to him or her were filled with kindness. We have no desire to take back anything done or said in kindness.
May we always speak kind words to each other. We never know when ours will be the last words that someone hears on Earth.