Bad Words / Good Words
(Is it a poem, or is it prose? I have no idea.)
I want to use bad words to express my anger that somebody would
With resolute forethought, plan and execute such heinous acts
To maim, to kill and destroy their fellow sojourners on this earth.
Speechless one minute. Feeling like I must have turrets the next,
I am torn sometimes before I remember a few things I’ve learned.
I remember a line from a book I once read where the protagonist jumps
Out of his car, runs around to the open window of the neighboring car
Parked at the stoplight
And slugs the guy for slinging a dirty name at his friend.
When asked why he did it he said, “If I’d hit him back the same way
He hit you, then I couldn’t help but hit you too. This way, I only hit him.”
It makes sense, this idea. But still somehow feels wrong to me.
Maybe because another memory is fighting for my attention now.
One much older,
When I was much younger and didn’t understand the difference between
Moral certitude and brazen idiocy. I was young, and I was innocent
And I was trying—in the best way I knew—to be good.
The after-school game was, “Prisoner of War.” My playmates were
Two husky boys slightly younger (by a few months) but both larger than I.
I’ve always been strong
And pretty tough. I like pushing my danger-limits to see just how strong
And just how tough I really can be. Can I hold my own against
A couple of bullies? Of course, I can! I’ll beat the snot out of ‘em!
Turns out I was the girl, so I got to be the prisoner.
(I know what you’re thinking, and yes, you’d be right about that.)
I was stupid.
They tied an old rope around my neck, bound my hands behind my back,
And drug me through a few neighbors’ yards filled with sandspurs.
But that was boring, so then we went tripping into the woods.
When the rope began to choke me and my vision started turning all
Blotchy-red, I didn’t complain—remember that I was a tough girl
And would NEVER
Give them the satisfaction of knowing they were hurting me.
I feigned a trip, and dropped onto an old piece of rebar, using it
To twist my hands free of the rope while they discussed their next move.
I ground the rust and dirt into my hands as I twisted the steel bar
Behind my back. I could hear the blood pulsing in my ears.
“It’s now or never,” I thought. And I knew exactly how to do it.
And I would hurt them… a lot.
I’d get in trouble for it, too. When my mother saw my state she’d ask,
“What in the world have you been up to?”
And I’d hang my head and have to confess how I’d maimed the two boys
Who were my playmates. I watched them rise to gather a few boards—
Some new form of torture, no doubt.
In my mind’s eye I saw the injuries I was about to inflict—I was only nine—
I heard the crunch of the metal hitting bone.
I saw their tears and the agony in their faces.
I swallowed and noticed how very much my throat hurt.
My hands stung and I think it was more than hot sweat that dripped
Down my neck.
In that moment, I thought of my Sunday School teacher, my Aunt Carol,
And the lesson she had taught us just last Sunday.
“What does it mean to ‘turn the other cheek,’ she asked?”
I looked at her cheeks and thought about how much I loved this sweet angel.
“It means not to fight back,” I responded. “Yes, that’s part of it,” she said.
Then this marvelous story-teller
Proceeded to tell us the stories of Jesus. How he always
“Turned the other cheek.” How it wasn’t ever an easy thing to do
Because it’s our nature to fight back. But it’s what he always did.
“Why,” I wondered all the way home? “Why is it in our natures?
Why should we deny our natures?” Decades have passed and I’m still wondering
About the answer.
All I’ve been able to come up with is that it feels right.
So I can’t explain to my mother as she chides me for “…letting them
drag you around like that! Why didn’t you fight back? Run home? Call for help?”
I could have, I suppose. But I didn’t. I let the rebar fall.
I stood and stared at them. What is that expression on his face?
A flicker of uncertainty?
A moment of… fear? They’re afraid of me!
Well yes, they should be afraid of me. I’m tough and they know it!
But I’ve decided to, “Turn the other cheek.” Literally.
I turn my head and the short one whips the back of his grimy hand across
My right cheek. He must have seen that move in a movie somewhere because
He does it with finesse.
This is the cut my mother dabs at with Merthiolate (stings like a hornet)
As she continues to scold me. For some reason, her disapproval
Hurts worse than the cut… or the rope burns… or the sandspurs.
Knees and hands bloodied. Rope burns on my neck and wrists.
Sandspurs stuck in the oddest places and I am caked in sandy dirt
From head to toe.
“I was trying to be like… Jesus,” I mumble. It’s the truth. I was.
And I thought that this line of defense would count for some kind of
Redemptive counterpoint. I thought wrong.
My dear mother yet lives and I love her. So I will respect her
By not going into the details of her scolding. I know she was only
Trying to help me be safe.
But I think about this experience a lot when I want to use bad words,
Or punch somebody’s lights out. I’ve survived quit a lot besides this.
As a matter of fact, this experience was CAKE by comparison.
And there will be more to survive, I’m sure of it. There always is.
The thing is, there will always be foul-mouthed bullies in the next car over
At the stop light.
There will always be a couple of “boys”—bigger than me, than you, than us—
Who get their thrills out of kicking someone’s trash around the block a few times
And watching the blood flow.
There will always be the bombers, the terrorists, the mentally-unstable,
The extremists, the politicians, and those who thrive on avarice:
Those who believe that
The loss of one is the victory of another. That they must
Step on their fellow man in order to rise on the backs of the fallen
To their treasure. Whatever it is that they covet.
I say this is a false presumption! I know what I have experienced.
As I stood there that day looking into the eyes of those two boys,
Making the decision
To drop my desire for revenge and to emulate a better way,
My nine-year-old soul expanded and I was filled with light… and love,
And an understanding far surpassing my tender years.
I didn’t want to propagate more pain or give rise to more fear.
You strike at an animal and they will retaliate in defense.
The same is true of us.
But we aren’t animals. We think and reason and must therefore
Expect more of ourselves. In that moment of peace and acceptance,
I knew a greater power. I felt it and I can’t explain it.
Bullies will come and they will go. They will wreak havoc on our world.
But they cannot touch our soul, nor can they take our will.
When I want to use bad words,
I try to think of all the goodness that is in the world.
For every bomb that has exploded this week, a hundred acts of heroism
Have erupted from the hands of brave and true and caring souls
Who just want to help. These people inspire me to be better.
They shine the light of hope through the settling dust of grief.
They are numerous!
There are more of them than we know. And we are one of them.
We are the light that shines to those who sit in darkness.
We are the threads of peace who bind all humanity. We are good words.