Words can inspire, words can destroy. But can hurtful words rebound us?
We have all faced those words, words that are wounding. Sometimes from people closest to us and other times from mere strangers. Despite the intensity of their impact, we all have reacted with varying degrees – brushed them off and walked away, let them percolate on our mind, penetrate our heart, crush our spirit or lash back as a knee-jerk reaction. And no matter how we have reacted, or what kind of words have been thrown at us, whether they were intentional or unintentional, we always remember, not the words, but how they made us feel.
As I am growing older I tend to do something that many of us do. Retrospection. And this has made me wonder, if at any point, vengeful words may have been an unforeseen catalyst to provide the courage to walk a new path.
When I was a little girl, I used to get into scuffles with a designated class bully because of my refusal to follow her commands. One fine day our teacher, exasperated with her inability to resolve this ongoing conflict, decided to call our parents. My overworked mother, reached the principal’s office , quietly listened to the charge sheet and then apologized for my behaviour. As we turned to go, the teacher did something that changed me forever. She threw few sharp words at my mother, ‘ Oh don’t worry Mrs., in our class we still have two students who are worse than your daughter…’. That was it. It stung deep. I saw my mother’s crushed face. That moment, I resolved never to catch the bully’s bait again. I had to learn smarter, non- violent and more effective ways of not getting intimidated. My teachers words had more impact than any previous punishment had.
Growing up, my friends always teased me for being such a sap for greeting cards. I had a fetish of hiding all my birthday and Christmas cards in sock drawers, shoe boxes or even under my mattress. Everyone knew exactly the kind of colours I liked on my cards, sparkled, jazzy, and loud. I was so predictable and easy to please. And for that matter, displease.
My granny, who was especially dear to me, knew exactly what to write or how to write it depending on whether she was happy or cross with me. In her each reprimand or praise, her words came alive to assassinate all negativity and doubt, abduct good sentiments, and then imprison those sentiments within the pages of these cards. One such summer, after I had been especially difficult with my parents, they decided to pack me off to a distant cousin’s. ‘…A change of scene will help you appreciate your everyday privileges and show you what real life is like..’, were my mother’s parting words. It was a small country farm house, cold, soggy and sparsely furnished. I shared my room with two other cousin sisters and our washrooms were a three minute walk away. We had to get up by the crack of dawn, which was generally when the rooster croaked and then finish our morning chores including laying the table, making breakfast, bringing in fresh eggs and milk from the barn. I, of course, struggled with all of these tasks. My cousins were kind but also sniggered a lot. I simply hated it. One grey morning as I sat on a boulder thinking of an escape plan, my aunt called out, ‘ ….there is a card for you..’. With a racing heart, I ran in, grabbed, and ripped it open. It was granny. Through my tears and in between the loud colours I read her message. ‘Just write….word your feelings…what you are experiencing and what you wish for. You will start living each moment in your hope of capturing it in words before it passes by forever………’.That day l learnt the power of words as a method of coping. As I started writing down what I felt, happy and desolate thoughts, my burden lifted and she was right. I started enjoying my time doing chores and then pranking-about with my cousins. Again in retrospect, this was one of my best summers. What words did for me, no other living person could do.
Years later just after my first child, I had become rather found of eating. I was constantly dreaming about the next dish and that generously showed on my body. My doctor’s warnings were accompanied by my frightened husband’s delicately dropped hints about my weight. But nothing mattered to me and nothing could stop me from consuming the next delicious meal. At least not until the day I was invited to my elder brother’s Christmas party. After struggling to zip up the fourth outfit, I finally settled on wearing a long shapeless gown, piled up my hair to show the reminiscences of a slender nape and dolloped an extra doze of powder under my baggy eyes. I entered the party room and all eyes turned on me with what I detected was a hint of ridicule. Ignoring this as my imagination I made a bee-line for the snack table. There was a slender girl leaning against my brother and they both startled as they saw me. I recognized her. She was my friend’s younger sister, my brother’s special friend. I was surprised that she hadn’t recognized me. So I extended my hand and as I was about to introduce myself, she bowed a little with respect and beat me to it. ‘ Oh hello Aunty, it is so wonderful to finally meet you….your son here has told me so many things about what a special mother you are ….’. I blanked out. Who was she talking to? Me? But I was not his mom, I was his younger sister! And that was my last straw. Her words had done the trick. The next day I started on a strict diet plan.
After our second child was of school-going age, my husband and I decided to move to a new city. A month into our new life, I was still finding my way and nothing seem to measure up with what we had left behind. Nostalgic and cranky as I sat at breakfast one morning, my husband with his head still burred in the newspaper, said something that made me rather angry. ‘ Honey, your whole life you have been hankering to work outside the home, talking about the need for equality in everything including income for women….well, now is your chance….why don’t you venture out and look for something to keep you out of trouble…say, like a job- and in turn prove that you practise what you preach …?..’. He had said it lightly not looking up to face me, but I knew he had meant every word of it. Wow, his words struck me hard. I was annoyed at his lack of empathy. How was I suppose to look for a job in a new city without any contacts and who would look after the children after school? How could he be so cruel? Was he not my friend anymore? So I lashed back, ‘…Equality starts at home….equal help at home in everything…’. I walked away before the first tear fell. In the name of my pride, I took his challenge and the next few weeks were spent in writing out resumes and visiting strange offices in between picking and dropping the children to school, groceries and cooking. Within a month I got an offer. As I headed home after my first day of work, I couldn’t wait to share every moment of this novel experience with him. But then I thought of all the chores that would be waiting once I reached home. My enthusiasm died with each step that I took towards the front door. Before I could reach the door bell, the door flung open and he was standing there with a broad smile. A savoury aroma enveloped me . He said, ‘ …Well, I know my words hurt you, they were meant to, or you would not have moved out of your comfort zone…..congratulations on your fist day of work! But don’t ever underestimate the power of your words too. For they made me realize that perhaps now I needed to do my bit at home….so …I cooked dinner….Welcome home!..’