Sticks and Stones Will Break My Bones But Words Will Never Hurt Me?
‘Why are you so quiet?” Sarah asked Andrew.
“I’m shy” he responded smiling.
“But you hardly say anything!” She insisted. Andrew simply smiled and shrugged his shoulders.
“And you do that thing!” She mimicked him and rolled her eyes. “Forget it.” She turned to others at the table and started to talk to them instead. Andrew had very much wanted to talk to her like others were talking to her except that he could not bring himself to do so. A leaded dread crawled across his skin, causing him to shudder in the heat and nestled itself into the pit of his stomach. He knew what was to come - it had happened more times than he cared to count. It will only bring him more pain.
Andrew woke up feeling angry and unrested. Since the dinner 2 nights ago, he had the same dreams and woke up with bitter bile in his mouth. He was 10 years old and in primary school. He had been a fairly average kid, all ginger and freckled and was mischievous as befits those his age. He remembered losing the sense of we-ness one fateful hot afternoon (perhaps that’s why summers never accorded well with him and always made him feel down). He was chatting sotto voce with his classmate when the science teacher had shouted at him.
“Andrew!” She marched like a force of nature to his desk and yanked him into standing by his shirt. “Care to share what you are gossiping about here with all of us?” She gestured sweeping her arm to encompass the whole class. Dulled eyes came alive and turned to look at him, attentive.
“No, Miss Young,” he murmured.
“Of course you don’t!” She slammed her palm onto the desk. It jumped at the force. “You don’t have anything of value to add! Just yak yak yak yak all day long.”
The silence that followed the clicking of her heels to the board seared into his mind as he felt tears well up in his eyes.
“Well? What are you standing there for?” She bellowed, “more nonsense to add to the air? Sit down!”
He recalled to times in his life, when he was shushed up because he was the youngest in the family. Everyone seemed to take on their turn to impress on him that his opinions were ‘interesting’ with a sneer. He could still recall the many backs that were turned to him when he was speaking, forming a wall to keep his ideas out.
Well it had worked well - these walls that shut him down. These days, even though he was brimming with ideas and opinions (he was not stupid, that he knew), the walls that have been erected years ago remain sturdy and cause a lump in his throat whenever these ideas threatened to make airwaves.
He longed to speak his mind, but seldom dared to or did so, so tentatively people don’t take him seriously. What irony! Consequently, more backs are turned to him these days and every time a back faces him, the leaded dread would rear its ugly head and tell him “what’s the point?”
We humans are sponges. We absorb messages from the world around us and people around us whether we intended to do so or not. So if like Andrew, we have been presented with emotionally-laden messages that he had better shut up, they will creep in and form that internal wall that presents us from speaking up.
Sticks and stones will definitely hurt us, but words drill into us unbidden and may end up causing us to hurt ourselves without meaning to.
In the spirit of community and compassion, I ask that you treat anyone you know who might be like Andrew differently from how they have been treated. Look beyond the stuttering and silences, the meekness and awkwardness to the PERSON behind it all, who is looking right back at you. Encourage their silence, sit with them patiently, use whatever means you know to convey that you are happy to accept what they are working themselves up to say to you.
If you are someone who struggles like Andrew, know that there are people out there who are compassionate, and accepting of you as you are. They will look past your halting dread to see YOU. Painful as it is to take this risk, give them another chance, for your sake.