Words Can Break A Heart

Something About Nothing published the Week of April 3, 2016 in the Albert Lea Tribune.

I had to visit the dentist last week and have a tooth pulled. I actually needed two teeth pulled — one on each side of my mouth — but I opted for the right side of my mouth to be tampered with first. It was the tooth that was in the most pieces.
I have a fear of the dentist that goes back to my childhood. An ungraceful badminton racket swing by a friend took out my two front teeth. I moved forward to get the birdie, while my friend moved backward. Amazingly enough it was a perfect swing, catching just my teeth but not my mouth.
The summer beginning my eighth-grade year in school was spent in the dentist office. There was no soft music, gentle touch or pain-free dental equipment, nor was there a dentist with steady hands. The fear fueled by those memories lasts a lifetime.
New technology and gentle hands by both the technicians and the dentist now make a visit to their offices as pain free as possible. My tooth is out, and I am making plans to go back for the next removal. My fear is subsiding, and I found my fear was worse than the visit. But it is hard to remove those memories of long ago from my mind.
Recently, I asked my readers for devastating words said to them at some time in their lives that stuck in their thoughts and hearts forever. I was doing research for a Lenten service I wanted to write. My readers responded, and my heart broke as I read some of the unkind and thoughtless words that were left glued inside their mind.
Here are a few examples:
• I will never forgive you.
• “You’re fat, dumb and ugly.”
• “How stupid are you to adopt disabled children? You’d return any other defective merchandise.”
• “You can’t carry a tune. Your voice is terrible.”
• “I’m going to send you home in a body bag.”
These were just a few of the responses I received. Words hurt just as much, if not more than the dentist drill of my childhood. My fear of the dentist didn’t shape my life, only the care of my teeth. Words said in the heat of anger or to wound can twist someone’s life. Kind words in the future do not seem to wipe out the memories of the past cruelties.
Of these five examples, one person did not sing in public or in a choir again. One, because they felt they were too ugly and dumb, didn’t have the confidence to go on to nursing school. And I can’t even respond to how not being forgiven or your life being threatened would change the way one lives. Luckily the person who was taunted for adopting disabled children did not listen but hurt for the children in their care who were ridiculed.
The words I remember the most from my teen years were when a boy told me I was the ugliest girl he had ever seen. I remember that boy, but luckily I had enough support that I could move on in my life. To this day, I remember that boy because of his cruel words. I always wonder what words I might have said that are remembered by someone, and I hope they have forgiven me for them. But I know they aren’t forgotten. Forgiveness and forgetting are two different things.
There is an old saying, “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt.” I’d like to change that saying to “Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can break my heart.”

     

The Courage Of A Leader

Something About Nothing published in the Albert Lea a Tribune January 16, 2017

Today is the day we honor a great man, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In case you don’t know, Dr. Martin Luther King was a Baptist minister and a leader in the Civil Rights movement. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee. He was awarded posthumously the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Congressional Gold Medal. Martin Luther King Jr. Day was declared a federal holiday in 1983 by President Ronald Reagan, and it began being observed three years later.

In 1963 at the March on Washington, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech in which he stated his wish that our nation would rise and live out the creed that we would hold our truths to be self evident and all men would be created equal. He wished for all to sit down in brotherhood and that his four children would live in a nation where people would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. He wanted people to pray together, work together and stand up for freedom together. In spite of the oppression he felt over his lifetime, he loved this nation.

I was a senior in high school in 1968. That is 49 years ago. I never thought when I was a teenager that we would still be fighting the same race wars in 2016. I can only imagine what Dr. King would say if he would be able to speak today.

I grew up in a white community. I remember the first time I met a black person. It was in the early 1970s, and he was the husband of my best friend from childhood. It was the first time I was confronted with choosing whether I might be accepting of someone of another race, and I was. My friend made a smart choice in her husband. My children who were 3 and 5 at the time didn’t notice color — they noticed kindness. I had been sheltered from the violence and race wars where I lived and was relieved to know that I could look at a person and see the person not the race.

I think the reason I questioned how I would react to the meeting was because of what I had seen on television and heard in the media. Living where I lived I didn’t understand what the rest of the country was going through because I didn’t experience it, and so making judgements just by what I heard did put a little fear in my heart of those that were different.

I had a little taste of understanding earlier in 1968 when I read a book called “Freedom Summer” published in the ’60s. I don’t know the author, but the book had an impact on me. I read it for a book report my senior year. It highlighted white college students volunteering in Mississippi during the riots to register voters. I read it, went back to my nice life, but I never forgot that book.

I can’t imagine having the courage of Dr. King, speaking out and leading against hatred and violence that was directed at him. Yet he kept going and it cost him his life, but in doing so he left a legacy to aspire to. He believed in nonviolence and he preached nonviolence, yet violence took his life because he had the courage to stand up against those who were intolerant.

Here we are in 2017 fighting the same injustices. I don’t remember a year in my life since those early days when I have felt the fear I have been feeling. It is a fear we are going back to those early days of intolerance of those who are different than us. I don’t remember a year when I have felt hatred running out of control again.

And I don’t like feeling that fear because for me, if fear takes over, the lashing out begins. The rational thinking goes out the door and my mind fuels on what might happen and is focused on things which might never occur except in my own mind. When that happens I take it out on those I don’t understand, and it leads to family against family, neighbor against neighbor and judgement and repercussions. The blaming begins and we never blame ourselves. We always find a scapegoat for our feelings.

I read the story of the life of Martin Luther King Jr. today. He deserves our honor. He gave his life so others could have a better life. He didn’t stay silent about oppression out of fear. I find others doing that today, staying silent out of fear, bowed down by those that are louder. Staying silent because they don’t want to be targeted by those that think differently. I find myself doing that or apologizing to those that are the loudest and don’t like my viewpoint, because I don’t want to offend them even when they are offending me or I don’t want to be their target. Where is the fine line between swallowing our pride and our beliefs and our conscience and still staying friends with those who bully our opinions so we don’t speak out?

We learn from the past. Soon we will be the past. What will our children learn from us? Will it be the same as we learned from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Will it be an education of courage?

Can Hope Survive Disappointment?

My column published week of January 9, 2017 in the Albert Lea Tribune and Courier-Sentinelperception.

If you hear something often enough and it is repeated time and time again and you listen, you might internalize and believe what is being said, whether it is true or not.

A young girl is called an ugly duckling over and over again. She grows into a beautiful swan, but because she has always been told she is an ugly duckling she still sees herself as that duckling in later years.

A young boy is told he is a failure at sports even though he hasn’t developed his talent, and as he grows and becomes a teenager he doesn’t try out for sports because he believes he is not good enough.

A wife or a husband is told over and over and over again they don’t deserve love. They aren’t contributing to a family or they are not a good person and they believe the way they are treated is because they don’t measure up and don’t deserve better.

Someone repeatedly hears many times a day that politicians are crooked and corrupt, but they don’t look for the facts and because of the fabrications they believe what is said.

Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.” But we don’t. We see it every day in our friendships, in our marriages, in our businesses and in politics. Our excuse for not believing when a person shows us their true character is to give them another chance, we know people can change. 

There is also the question: Does a leopard change its spots? Can we apply that to life? We hope whoever it is that is telling that young girl she is an ugly duckling or convincing the teenage boy he doesn’t measure up, or the husband or wife who verbally assaults their spouse or the business owner who convinces us his product can’t be defective because it is our mistake or the politician who is corrupt and lies, sees their mistakes and will become a better, more honest and kinder person. We hope they change their spots, and they may do so for a little while to further their agenda.

There are people who have changed their behaviors toward others — but not until they have done the work to understand why they need to condescend and lie and behave the way they do. They must have an honest willingness to treat others better and become a person of integrity.

If you have ever been in one of these situations or in something else similar, did that person show you who they were, but you chose to see something different even though the facts and the words were staring you right in the face? Where does our eternal hope come from that the leopard will change their spots, keeping us believing in them despite what they have demonstrated to us.

Maybe the reason we can’t accept the life we live is because we would have to own our choices. Was the politician we voted in a mistake, and if it was, what does that say about us as a person? What about other decisions we made, were we blind? Does that make us weak? Does that mean we have bad judgment and are a failure? Maybe we don’t want to face ourselves and the fact we have accepted less in any part of our lives, so we can’t see the true reality of the situation.

I am pondering this today because I tossed out the word narcissistic on my Facebook page to see what would happen. My post said, “Narcissistic. That all I have to say for today in this post or I’d be toast.” The responses were interesting all the way from “I totally understand,” to “upcoming administration.” The definition of narcissistic is to have an excessive interest in oneself and one’s physical appearance. Exaggerated feelings of self-importance.

That brought me to thoughts of the things I have seen blasted on the news lately about people and politics. It brought me to the thoughts of those who make others feel less than human because of narcissistic feelings about themselves. What they say, behave and act toward others says more about how they feel about themselves than the person or situation they are targeting. And it still comes back to hope. In the midst of the fear, sorrow, and feelings of desolation, hope still springs eternal that relationships can be mended, business opportunities can be fruitful and honest, and our government will survive.

“Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.” — Desmond Tutu