November 8, 2010 § Leave a comment
Sticks and Stones… and Rope
Everyone knows the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” Right? Wrong! Words are our greatest means of communication. The pain of words can rip at your emotions far longer than the pain of a physical injury. While a physical wound can leave a scar, words can sear into your psyche and leave a hidden, open wound. It can damage your self-concept in a way that can stunt your development as a person, and make you question your very existence.
I remember two sisters in my neighborhood who were younger than me. They lived at a home that was only one really long block, and then a short left turn and a quick right turn to the street where I lived. One day when I was still in school and walking home from a long torturous day at school, I was walking by their house. I couldn’t walk across the street because there was no sidewalk, just an enclosed drainage gulley. I always tried to walk tall with my head up, pretending to ignore the typical name-calling that would occur whenever I walked by and they were playing in their front yard. “Hey Stick Legs” or “Where you going, Spaghetti Legs,” was always followed by loud guffawing and tittering.
This time, however, they did something totally unexpected. They ran behind me, and with a jump rope, looped the rope over my head like I was a cow they were trying to lasso, and then pulled hard on the rope. The rope pulled down on my arms, making me jerk back and drop my notebook and schoolbooks to the ground. I was shocked and shaking, but I did something even more unexpected. I grabbed the rope that was around my elbows and pulled it, with all of the strength I had, away from one of the sisters, while crying and screaming, “Stop it! Stop it!”
Maybe the sisters saw the pain in my face and heard the anguish in my voice, because they suddenly apologized profusely as I threw the rope to the ground like a dead snake, and began to pick up my books and papers that were strewn all over the sidewalk. I was so hurt and livid at the same time that I couldn’t see or think straight. I just knew I had to get my stuff, walk the rest of the block, make a left and a right, and then I was home.
Home – where I was safe. Home – where could listen to Tom Jones again and again and again. I was like Russian scientist, Ivan Pavlov’s proverbial dog. Side note: He discovered that environmental events (a bell ringing) could trigger a learned response called a reflex (a dog salivating for food when he hears a bell ring). The process by which humans (teen Judi) learn to connect a stimulus (Tom Jones) to a reflex (feel good, relaxed, safe, or whatever emotion a particular song and music evokes) is called conditioning. The moment I heard his voice I was fed. Tom Jones saved me from the sticks and stones and rope, and was… the singer who saved me.