Words. It almost seems like I have always known and have always owned their power. I guess because reading came to me so early, words became my biggest tool, and, sometimes, my biggest weapon. I learned words can be both and so much more.
I remember a particular day as an eight year old girl when I felt especially self-conscious about my body….about my ugly braces, those little brown orthopedic shoes I so badly wanted to hide, but couldn’t, and about everything else about myself…things I couldn’t share with anybody because even at such a young age, I had already been burdened with the labels I was forced to wear in order to exist. I was either viewed as an object of admiration or an object of pity depending of where I was or who I was with. And then, of course, I was the subject of whispers and muffled laughter or straight out invasive questions by kids and ignorant adults. I had learned to deal with all that and managed to stay whole for the most part, but this day, I felt vulnerable. I just wanted to hide.
So, wanting to be alone, I went outside and balanced myself on the gate in such a way that I could gently make it move back and forth like a swing feeling the breeze on my face and freedom as I imagined it to be, and as I witnessed it to be in the able-bodied world – a world that had made me feel so unwelcomed at times. As I was beginning to enjoy my imaginary ride, the sound of giggling and hurtful teasing brought me back to reality. Three little indigenous kids had been watching me from across the street. When they realized I noticed them, their comments and teasing was no longer hushed, but yelled out to me: “Look at the poor cripple. Nananana” and other very childish insults that were only painful because they touched on aspects of myself upon which I had no control. Still, I remained in control and let them tease and chant their little silly insults while maintaining eye contact with them with so much energy and so much power that their voices began to quiet down until they were completely silent.
Out of nowhere, and, at the same time, from deep within me something made words come out of my mouth…words that made those little kids cry as I undressed their own vulnerabilities, ridiculing their bare feet, their dark skin, their indigenous look. I teased them about the way society viewed “their kind”, (stupidly so as I too shared such indigenous heritage with them), told them to go cry to their mommy and daddy and to let them know a crippled girl made them cry. By the time the last word was spoken, those little children ran home looking broken. I suppose I should have been happy about my victory, but instead, I felt broken too because I then realized the power of my words, and I had used them to hurt others.
The memory of those little indigenous children has haunted me for years. I pour love over their lives and hope that somehow they were also able to heal the wounds caused, not only by my hurtful words that day, but from a society that, even today, continues to see people of color and people with disabilities as an inferior class…less worthy of opportunity, respect, access to equality. Since that early experience in my life, I try my best to use my words through the voice of empowerment and while I sometimes still lose my cool and say a few things I later regret, deep down I remember the power of words and how sticks and stones may break your bones, but some metaphors can kill hope and respect and love…things that don’t heal as easily as a broken bone.