Monday, August 25, 2008

Sticks and Stones

For my 6th grade Science Fair project I studied the effect of sound/music on plants. I had three plants that I started from seed. I gave them equal parts sun each day and equal parts water. During the evening, they retired to their respective beds. Plant A received a nightly dose of classical music; Plant B listened to Top 40 all night; Plant C was subjected to a barrage of Talk Radio.

Over the course of several weeks, I made these observations: Plants A and B, classical music and Top 40 respectively, were plants that were fairly equal in growth and overall healthy appearance. Plant C, the Talk Radio plant, was limp and pale - not nearly as vigorous as his siblings A and B. Conclusions: Music hath charms, but words can slowly suck the life out of you and impede your growth.

I have heard a great many words over the almost 40 years I have spent on this planet. There were words of love - words that made me feel good, special and important. There were words that hurt - words that made me feel dumb, unworthy and sad. When I started losing babies, there were lots of words. People respond to the tragedy of others in various ways: There are the "first responders" - the ones there, right at the scene - with words at the ready, casseroles and sometimes listening ears. There are the "rubberneckers" - the ones who cannot turn away from the tragedy, but do not or cannot participate in the rescue. While they were the ones who were 'there', sometimes those first responders with their words at the ready, did more harm than good. (You don't move a person with a possible spinal cord injury!) I didn't need the platitudes they spouted at me (or splatting poutitudes as I sometimes called it). Let's face it, there are really no words in this world that were ever going to take the hurt away, or lessen the pain. Oftentimes, those words began with "at least", a phrase I wish could be stricken from our language. Never is there anything more dismissive or belittling than a sentence that begins with "at least". You start with (a) an awful event, add (b)"at least" and follow it with a (c) supposedly worse scenario. Yes, you are in pain (a) BUT (b) this would be worse (c). In all the times I heard a sentence with "at least" in it, never once did my tears instantly dry up, and I thought or said, "You're right! This is so not that bad - I feel ever so much better now because my hurt is little compared to that!" I just felt guilty for hurting over something that, comparatively speaking, was supposedly little in significance. I cannot hurt, because it is not bad enough. Why do we do this? Why do we say things, though meaning to help someone feel better, that only attempt to diminish their pain? Why can't we just recognize the pain for what it is? Pain. Why do we also do this to ourselves? Out of some hope that making the comparisons will actually make the hurt feel less, go away? If I dropped a jug of milk on the floor, it would create a bigger puddle to clean up than just a glass of milk, however, I would still have to clean up the spill. In other words, a big pile of doo doo or a little pile - doesn't matter, it still all just stinks! Maybe less energy to expend in the clean-up, but there is still clean-up to be done.

The puddle of milk theory applies to words sometimes - the more words you use, the bigger the mess to clean up. Less is definitely more in some cases.

"I'm sorry"

"I'm here"

And then the practical: Hugs, listening ears, a shoulder to lean upon . . .

While it doesn't make the hurt go away - just like a kiss can't really make a boo boo all better - it does help a person know that someone cares that they have a hurt, with no judgments as to how valid a hurt it is. When you tell me "at least" it wasn't something else - it almost feels like you are saying you would care more if it was something worse and because it isn't, you care less. While I am certain that people don't intend to come across like this, theory and practical application are often two entirely different things.

For this reason, I never buy sympathy cards to give to people. I buy a blank card and keep it simple. I'm sorry. I'm here. I'm wishing you better days. No comparisons, no at least, no poutitudes. [sic]

Woefully inadequate words, but they are all we have to say; love we should have in abundance to give.


I read once of some villagers in the South Pacific who topple trees by yelling at them for a month. They just yell at the tree, no axe, yell and scream at it for a month and it just dies and falls over. They believe that doing this kills the tree's spirit and it then falls down. If yelling and screaming kills the spirit of a living thing in a month - what can months or years of quiet negative words do?


Regardless of if it has been a week, a month or years, don't forget the follow-up to I'm sorry: "I had you on my mind . . . ", because it's really saying, I had you in my heart.

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