By, Rev. Howard C. Earle, Jr., D.Min.
One day I was out eating at a restaurant. The name of the restaurant escapes me and isn’t all that important. Even what I witnessed on this day was inconsequential, but I have newfound appreciation for what I am about to describe. There was a small group seated at a table adjacent to mine and there was a young child in a highchair with them. Occasionally I would hear screams coming from the child. I decided to look and investigate what the child’s urgency was. It was obvious the child was trying to communicate but no one knew exactly what. The child’s mother very patiently turned to the child and looked her in the eye and said, “Use your words.” There was a pause, and I could see the child processing her mother’s command and then she let out another scream! Again, with patience and without raising her voice, mom said, “Use your words.” And out came another scream.
Obviously, the mother was trying to teach her child that the better way to communicate was with words rather than screams. I’m sure that was a typical exchange between that mother and her child. I never thought of it again until this week during our Nobody Asked Me (NAM) group. Our opening question was what words were spoken to us in our childhood that we still remember to this day. I shared a conversation I had with my dad while riding together in the car. I don’t recall exactly how old I was, but I’m sure I couldn’t have been more than 11 or 12. My dad called me Buddy. And on this particular ride we were discussing my future and my dad said, “Buddy, you can be whatever you want to be. You can even be the president!” My dad’s affirmation on that day was seared into my psyche. His words made me feel invincible, worthy, and strong; all the things a son should feel after his father affirms him.
Tuesday, we spent our time talking about the power of words. One of the biggest lies and scandals of childhood was the notion, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I put this lie right up there with the reality of Santa Claus! The truth is words can hurt. In some ways a broken bone would be better than the hurt caused by damaging words. It turns out, there are words that are used to describe senior living that are problematic for some. Often the senior years are associated with old, senile, decrepit, mean, weak, burdensome. One group member confessed of his disdain for the term “senior citizen.” We decided rather than allow the words of others to have so much influence over our identity, we would use our own words to define ourselves. We recognize that words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, harm, to humiliate, and to humble. The Scriptures tell us, “Life and death is in the power of the tongue.” Therefore, with this power we have the ability to create the reality we desire with our words. The way people think of the world is influenced directly by the language that the people use to talk about it.
You can’t stop the world from using the words it chooses, but you certainly can choose your own. Maybe you don’t stand as tall as you used to or you don’t run as fast, jump as high, and hear as well, but you get to say if you’re strong. So, I say, call it like you see it! Write it down and post it around the apartment. Define yourself in the terms that resonate with you. Use your words! I look forward to seeing you in our NAM group in our new time on Mondays at 2:00 pm on the Vistas Patio and on Tuesday at 9:30 am in the Chapel.