I thought about words this morning. It was early and the sun hadn’t fully slanted through the bedroom window where I sat sipping my first cup of coffee. I watched the squirrels stalk the bird feeder that I installed for deepening the joy I find in this morning activity — slipping out from under the covers very early (a lot of days H. does the slipping out but he’s away at the moment) and into the kitchen for a cup of what the coffee pot with the timer provides us and then slipping back under them to peacefully ponder and watch the light come into fullness. I thought for a minute about shooing the squirrels away so Lucy and Ricky, the couple of cardinals that I’ve adopted and yes, named, could have some breakfast. But I decided not to shout at the squirrels through the window. I decided to let them stay.
My heart is tender. It always has been, and as I age it seems to become more so. But just because I’m a tender person doesn’t mean I’ve always been one who is kind with her words. That realization weighs on me and registers as shame. When I see the tendency to be verbally abusive in others, I regrettably recognize myself too much.
I was raised by people who were great with words, albeit in mostly an informal way. On both sides of my family there were and still are people who can endlessly entertain with only the art of how they string sentences together into a story or even just a remark — lively, descriptively, idiosyncratically — and I have a deep appreciation for it. But I’ve also realized that the ability to size up a situation quickly and remark on it with acuity is dangerous. Just as we can do great good with words, we can also do great harm. Just as my people tend to have entertainingly colorful conversational ability, that talent turns dark when the intention isn’t carefully set toward lifting up rather than taking down.
Warning: I had a lot of thoughts this morning. I’m going to try to be as brief as I can — we’ll see where this goes.
Then I thought about integrity, which I define these days as the art of making my actions match who I am on the inside. That tender heart that I have isn’t always reflected to the world. Now that I am a middle-aged lady, I’m embarrassed by that. I see and feel countless examples of reckless behavior on whatever scale all strewn out behind me. On a larger scale, I feel that same recklessness in the world, and I wonder about the depth of its beginnings in each instance.
Damage is almost always cyclical — I have a sharp tongue because I was raised around people with sharp tongues, namely my parents, and they used them as swords — to cut down, to wound, to criticize, to destroy. And though I’m fascinated by it now that I’ve realized healthy people don’t talk to each other in mean and threatening ways, I’m also ashamed by it and the legacy it has given me. What sort of Neaderthals (no offense to Neanderthals, natch) think it’s okay to go around finding fatal faults in others and expressing their thoughts about them perfectly freely? Why weren’t my parents kinder to each other? Why were they so judgmental of each other and why’d they teach me to be the same way and further — to be attracted to others who have the same tendencies? “If you don’t have anything nice to say come sit by me…”
Certainly their hearts were tender too (I do have evidence of this), but why couldn’t they get their acts together to live their lives with the integrity that interests me so much more than creative wordcraft these days? The sharp example they gave me indeed carved a hole in me, and it’s as easy for the inherited poison to seep out of my piehole as it is for my bottom lip to exactly match the one my father had.
I’ve recently begun trying to count to five before I respond to something in language. I don’t trust myself not to be the smartass I’ve always been and say something curt and probably hurtful if I don’t consider what’s about to fly out of my mouth like a knee jerks when it’s hit with that little hammer at the pediatrician’s office. It can make for some awkward pauses in conversation, but I think it’s worth it. I hope to be able to work up to ten soon without feeling like I might explode. I hope to ultimately be able to say nothing at all unless it’s necessary and does good. Imagine — just because one has a thought doesn’t mean it has to be verbalized. And there’s the integrity part again — I may think an awful thought, but just because I do doesn’t mean it’s the truth and it certainly doesn’t mean that saying it out loud would reflect who I really am, much less who I want to be.
Besides, deep down, I want the squirrels to enjoy the birdseed too.
Maybe it goes without saying that I regret that I didn’t think about this sooner. But that’s something I definitely need to make sure I say right out loud.
Sending love everywhere today,