Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sticks and Stones

"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me." I understand why my mom taught me this when I was a child.  I understand that words are just sounds out of a person's mouth, and should not have the power to hurt me in any way.  I held tightly to this phrase while I was growing up, squeezing it like a worn out blanket.  I believed in it with all my heart, and it carried me through the moments of unkindness that occurred as I grew.  I have repeated them over and over, to hundreds of children in my life.  I have taught them to my own child, tender to the barbs of the sharp tongue.

Why, then, when someone utters two ignorant hurtful words, do I crumble? Mouthed words, directed at me, in a moment of anger. I don't know this person, have never seen her before, and will no doubt never see her again.  Yet they implode me into an endless stream of tears and pain.  I cry until I cannot cry anymore.  The image of her face will not leave me.  It is ugly with anger.  I cannot for a moment imagine that people know what they become....how the face contorts into something fiendish.  It is the very embodiment of "monster."

There is a tiny handful of moments that I could imagine ever becoming truly hurtful, ruthless, & venomous, and they generally involve my child.  Any person who ever knowingly endangers her will know the outcome of this transformation.  Any person who ever knowingly endangers any of my loved ones in any way will experience the unturned cheek. A mother's/sister's/child's defense is as daunting a foe as you'll ever encounter.  And while I have been tempted to lash out at strangers who have irritated or inconvenienced me, or who were outright rude to me, I am without exception overcome by my parents' lessons on how to treat others. I find my safe place, far from the eyes and ears of the offending party. Quite frankly, screaming at the top of my lungs in the car has repeatedly proven a wildly cathartic experience. And I would rather the passengers in the passing cars believe me mildly crazy than to leave someone as devastated as I was left to feel.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can eviscerate me in an instant.

I wonder what she was feeling...

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