As you all may have guessed by now, I have quite a few stories in my history book to share. Today I have another story to share, but this time, it’s a little different. This story is about someone very close to me…my father. I come from a proud Igbo household. Although my sisters and I were brought up here in the United States, my parents were born and raised in Nigeria. And coming to this country, they brought their culture with them and of course, their strong accents.
My dad used to be heavily involved with this men’s group. They would have weekly meetings, lunches from time to time, and even getaway bonding trips. My dad was always very busy with work, but he always tried to make time to remain involved with these group of men. It was important to him and he enjoyed the friendship they were building. Well one day, they were going on one of their getaway trips. They had all planned to leave in a van by mid afternoon, but my dad was running a little late from work that day and they left without him. But my dad was so excited about the trip, he didn’t let that stop him. He decided to drive and meet up with them on his own. But in his attempt to find them, he got lost in the woods. Luckily, he called one of the guys that were attending the trip and they came and got him. When he finally arrived to the location, he approached some of the group and jokingly said “You guys left me, I got lost out there”. They seemed concerned and apologized to my dad about leaving him. A couple hours later, my dad overheard their conversation as they talking in the other room. He heard them laughing loudly and wanted to join in. But just as my dad was about to walk in the room, he realized he was the topic of the conversation. “Man, he was saying we left him or something, but I could barely understand what he was saying”. That’s what one of the men rudely uttered as they all roared in laughter and continued to tell jokes about my father’s accent. My dad never felt so hurt and ridiculed. For the rest of the trip, he barely talked to anyone, he didn’t eat much, and he was the first to leave when it ended. And after that trip, he never engaged with those group of men again.
When my dad told me this story, he started crying. Even though it happened years ago, the pain from their words resurfaced as if it happened yesterday. And seeing him cry, made me cry. My dad, who always is a rock of strength, was weakened by the words of others. Ironically, the one thing that everyone says can never hurt you, was the one thing that hurt him the most: words.
Our words are so powerful. So much so, that at times we take don’t always realize the weight that they carry. We forget that words are life’s biggest paradox…because as quickly they can bring us up, they can tear us down even quicker. They’re the reason why people hate themselves, question their worth, and experience the worst roller coaster of emotions inside their own heads. We internalize what people say and it takes a toll on us. It changes us. For some it makes them indifferent, for others it makes them feel lower than they ever imagined. People often say sticks and stones, may break my bones….but they were wrong….words always hurt. Because unlike a bruise that eventually goes away, the pain from hurtful words never really heals. More often times than not, that pain just gets boxed away in our hearts and we hold it with us until it changes us, hardens us, and resurfaces upon us…just as it did for my dad. And these words cause us to live in a reality that’s built on proving, disproving, and escaping. Escaping the words of others that we just can’t let go.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have said things I wish I could take back. We all have. But part of being better people is learning from our mistakes. And as we move forward in life, we have to learn to make the conscious decision to use use our words wisely. God gave us this powerful form of communication because He knows we are capable of using it to do amazing things in our lives and in the lives of others. So let’s use it right. Send encouraging text messages to your friends just because. Find a compliment to give someone you see. Look at someone and remind them of how valuable they are. Look yourself in the mirror and remind yourself how valuable YOU are. Use your words for something amazing. Use your words to uplift others. Use your words to remind others of their greatness even in midst of their shortcomings. Use your words to inspire someone. Don’t fall into the trap carelessly using this powerful weapon to hurt others. But more importantly, don’t fall into the trap of letting the words of others define YOU. No matter how hurtful their words may be, remember the words that God uses to describe you. Remember the words of the ones that love you. Remember the words of the warrior inside you….That’s what my dad did. And despite the pain he may have felt with those men, when he remembered the words of truth, somehow… no other words seem to matter.