Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.
I don’t know why this old adage keeps humming in my head as I stare out my office window, to my backyard where the first signs of spring are showing. Finally the older gentlemen emerges from the green house behind ours-I can see him through the usually thick hedges, which are bare, stolen by a cruel winter. I haven't seen any signs of him since autumn.
I spoke to him once. I was outside watering the flowers. I heard this defeaning cracking noise over my head and instinctively fell to the ground and covered my head. Something huge was crashing overhead. It was a thick, rather gigundo branch that just about cracked, it dangled now as if by a thread, but it wasn't dangling over me, it was about 10 feet in front of me in the place where he walks his dog. It could fall at any time now, even ON him while he's out back with the dog or hanging his laundry.
There’s poison ivy between our yards and I wasn’t walking well on this particular day, so I packed the kids up and looped around the block to warn him. On the way back, I drove over a wheel-of-a-shopping-cart, the spoke went right into my tire. I question Karma now. But my words could have saved his life. Losing a tire was worth it.
He’s got this very tall poodle-like dog. I hum the sticks and stones adage to myself as I wonder about the dog, what kind of dog is that? What kind of man is he? Who made up this saying that won’t stop spinning in my head…sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.
This is going to get mean, probably the meanest thing I will ever say and perhaps that is the point-how dumb and incredinly backwards?
We break things, we fall. This is life. This is growing. I remember sitting in a church during the year I was writing Zoe’s book and the Pastor mentioned broken bones and scars. Sometimes when we break bones they actually heal stronger than before. But words, the four letter words we call each other from a young age on, they’re sticky. We jump like we saw a spider somewhere on our shirt and try to shake them, but we never quite know when...if...it will reappear.
They can pop up again at any time, typically appearing when you’re working on a dream, and you’re in the thick of it, you’re tired, so so tired but trying and like agita (Italian for that heartburn feeling somewhere between your esophagus and your chest after you eat or someone upsets you)...they come and they bother.
You are not smart. You don’t know what the word “pretentious” means? Compare your SAT score to mine. Fat. Fat. Fat. Ugly. Poor. Dirty. If you believe in Jesus why isn’t he healing you bitch?
I did not know what the word pretentious meant at the time, but I looked it up. I believe that person knew that definition for good reason. He was smart :) I pray for him. I don’t even remember my SAT scores anymore, although I do wonder sometimes how I’d do if I retook them now. That would be fascinating. I’d totally give up a Saturday to investigate that one, only this time I’d bring a pencil and I’d eat beforehand. Fat? Why, thank you. My body is no one’s business but mine, not even my husband’s, and my weight does not define me. And yet, YET I still feel myself fidgeting with my clothes at 38, tugging at them, pulling them away so the fat won’t show. I’m a size 2, more like a 0. I catch myself doing it and remind myself to stand tall and put my shoulders back.
The fact that I do that, that pulling my shirt away from my body is very telling how deep-seeded these words are and how they shape how we view ourselves, even years after the fact.
Poor, yeah kind of, if measured by money. But not poor in spirit, and if I wasn’t poor you’d all be lucky because I’d give it away. This word never hurt me. Besides, poor, if we are measuring by money, is a relative term. Standing in Haiti I am a wealthy woman.
Dirty. Dirty is the worst of the words that haunt me and I think about it a lot, because it’s TRUE. I am unclean. Maybe this is why I won’t go out of the house in sweats and no make-up. I’m always very made up, like it will somehow convince the world that I have led a clean life, a perfect life? Of all the words that haunt, “dirty” follows me the most, but it’s almost in a good way. That person empowered me in a very important sense.
I am unclean. God knows this. I’ve done many dirty things in my life. I reflect and regret most of them. Some of them, however, I stand by because I wouldn’t have learned a greater lesson had I not committed that act of dirtiness. I will always be unclean. As long as I am human, I will muck up. But maybe that serves me and the world well because I never point fingers at others because of it. I too am unclean. I have done some really horrible things in my life. I pray for forgiveness every day. I will not judge.
It doesn’t mean that people have never wronged me and I haven’t gotten angry. I have. I do. But it boils for about a day and I’m over it. I will always forgive because I’m dirty.
Words. They have been used against me and followed me throughout my life. The people who flung them probably never even realized how much those words threatened me in my future. When I was younger, I did feel broken because of them. But then something miraculous happened, I became a writer and learned how to use them to save myself, perhaps some other soul who needed saving. The power of words. The power of my prayers. The power of writing because it’s so fucking healing.
I pray for you today, that you let go of the words people threw at you. I pray you use your words to change somebody’s life for the better. You have so much power in your voice-choose wisely how you use them. Stick and stones may break your bones, but words will always haunt you…unless you choose to use yours wisely, for the good of your neighbors-then and only then, like bones, that place where those words wounded you most, will heal even stronger than before.
Sticks and stones may break bones and words will always haunt you unless you break the cycle. God bless you my friends.