Throughout our lives, we receive encouragement from family, lifelong friends and perfect strangers. Hopefully, we’re passing along some of this encouragement to others.

I still remember the first positive words I received from my father: “You’re good when you’re asleep.” At first, this seemed like kind of a backhanded compliment but later I appreciated my own kids when they were in their unconscious state. My mother wasn’t quite as positive, telling me I was going to end up in the insane asylum or prison.

My parents thought I was crazy enough to see a psychiatrist. During our sessions, when we tossed the football back and forth, the shrink said that I sounded “normal.” What a beautiful word that was to bring home” “normal.” My parents didn’t care for this well-placed word and decided the doctor must be crazy.

Meanwhile, I was receiving encouragement at school. My high school cross country coach called my house at report card time, because he knew that would be a down day for me. He later told me, from what would be his deathbed that he really appreciated our runners that came in last. He admired them because, even though they didn’t enjoy any success, they kept trying. This taught me to encourage the lesser players when I coached soccer and little league.

I didn’t just receive inspiration form my coach. My sometimes scary academic advisor commiserated with me over the need to take more math and science courses. The fierce dean of discipline explained that he was only sending us to detention, because we weren’t getting enough attention at home. The main lesson we learned in high school was that life should be lived in moderation. I’ve been avoiding extreme lifestyles ever since.

Receiving encouragement during these tender years of growing up was valuable but it comes in handy any time in life. A few years back, I overheard a woman telling my son he was handsome like his father. After growing up with ears brushing the doorway, a chipped tooth in front and the nickname “pizza face,” it was great to rise above unsightly.

When we read about famous over-achieving people, there was often someone in their lives who gave them the positive word when they needed it: Annie Sullivan’s faith in Helen Keller; Mickey Mantle’s dad playing ball with his son after a long day in the mines; Bobby Jones’ dad and Tiger Wood’s dad, supporting their sons on the golf course.

We see people every day that need a well-placed word. They may be strangers, or someone you know but are afraid to approach. The word may be needed at an unspeakably sad wake, or in a hospital room you’re afraid to enter. Or it may mean talking to a person at a party that no one else is talking to.

We have adults encouraging young people in our schools and in our park district programs. Our community center reaches out to the elderly and the needy. Even this newspaper can help by celebrating achievements and boosting new businesses. We can all use a well-placed word now and then, even if it means being appreciated for being asleep.

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.