I still vividly remember my daughters face as I watched from the stands. It was halftime and I literally saw color drain as she was listening to an adult speak during her basketball game. Anxious, I wondered, what this woman had to say?
I continued to watch, alone, in the stands, worried. As my daughter, too tall and old for her age began to walk out onto the court I saw her turn. Anxious, I began trying to read her lips as they began to move and I tried to make out exactly what she was saying. I couldn’t and it was inaudible over the commotion of a middle school game.
The rest of the game I ignored. I sat, wishing and wanting to go to my daughter and be there for her, to understand what had happened for I knew something was said. Something big.
Later, she would come off the court, after the talk with the coach, she’d lean into me and share that they had been called “retards”. It wasn’t by a coach but this volunteer chose to tell them that night, they were “playing like retards”. Her shoulders slumped, my heart hurt and in that moment, I realized this word, this word that seared through her thoughts and into my heart needed no place in our society today.
A year before, that word had little meaning. In fact, I hadn’t realized it was still used. As I buckled into my car, the cold I felt wasn’t the air but a society forgetting that this word, this slang that so easily slips from the lips of those around us packs a punch like that of a fighter in a ring, leaving pain and bruising that takes time to heal.
That night as we drove away, I thought about the word. I thought about my daughter speaking up, talking back, to an adult. I realized the pain I felt rifled through our entire family and the ripple effect of our reality was one that was experienced by everyone in our home.
For a child to understand and realize that a word, so vile and destructive was used that she felt compelled to speak up it can only be said that it needs to be removed. Normally, we condemn back talk, especially to those in authority but that night, I took exception. That night I chose to honor it because reality is, our world is made up of so many rich and incredible words, that word has no place.
Today when I see that woman in our community and on our streets, I no longer have the anger boil within me, instead, I feel sorry. I feel sorry that she has a world of language and yet chooses to use a word that takes away instead of builds up and for any parent, teacher or coach we know the words we speak help to build the strength of tomorrow.
Choose your words wisely.