I’m smiling now as someone told me this week “You need to get grounded.” As much as I intellectually know the effect of words and that we seem hard-wired as humans to be susceptible to them, I still deal with it. Some people say words that water my soul while others tear it into pieces. Now, none of this may be purposeful but it happens. And I’m quite procedural about it these days. I know what I must due to counteract such words, and I do. But I still cannot avoid the need to deal with it and counteract with it. It’s like practicing medicine on yourself. You know what to do but the bruise or wound is still felt while you treat it.
The most interesting part of words for me is that words can affect me just as much as the removal or lack of words can affect me. Let me give an example. I used to date a girl (she’s a woman now) a number of years ago. And while together, in hopes of one day marrying me, she would say “I’m marrying the best man I know.” At first I didn’t believe this because how many people marry the best man you know? Really, it’s not important. The best man a woman knows can be her father, her mentor, a guru—it need not be her significant other. But here, this woman was saying that she chose the best man she knew. Eventually, those years ago, I believed it. One day, she left, and I realized those words aren’t true for her, at least most likely because you don’t leave the best man you know. Not good enough? I’ve a better example with a woman, from when I dated her, a number of years ago. From my warped perspective, we were a good couple but we faced problems from the outside due to families. For me, it was hard but didn’t change anything on the inside of our relationship, between us. For her it did. So I used to say, “If it would be better for you, less pain and strife, to be apart and not be with me, then that’s ok.” (Strangely I cared more for her happiness then for my happiness caused by her.) I would say something like that. She would say something like “With all the mess and messiness, with all the craze and craziness, with all the ridiculousness. . . . you’re worth it.” I, of course, have dressed up her comments, but that’s the essence. So one day, when the relationship is ended, tell me, what was the implicit (and honest) message I received? That’s right: you’re not worth it. With all the mess and messiness, craze and craziness, ridiculousness and hurt, you are not worth going through that. I’d rather not have you and the mess.
So what I have loved recently is that I had some good words given to me. It’s funny to think you may do the work of planting the seeds of words into the lives of people only to reap a harvest of fruitful words right back from your investment, but it’s been happening. . . with my students. I had two of my former high school students visit me during their spring break in college. It was nice to have them in the house for a week. We would make meals together; they would ask for permission to go out. I would stupidly stay up waiting for them to come home. I would fiercely guard them from DC guys they met, and I would drive them around and treat them. It was funny. But the words, oh the words they wrote to me in a card they gave me with a picture of them on the cover! When you don’t know if you’re good man, not because you may not be but because of silly words (which you know you just need to counteract, almost methodically), it helps to be told you are a good man. And I had forgotten because of other words. They gave me new words to replace the old. They told me. You’re a good man. You’re a Good man. They said some positive things and put it in writing for me to rehearse (I rehearse positive comments—it’s a practice of mine). I encouraged them, and I inspired them, and I was an example of a good man, and not just that a good Black man. (the word “good” is considered vague, banal, and provincial, but I actually consider it a very specific and great word in a different sense) Another friend contacted me to explain the wonders of me. I don’t know why she did it but she did. Her most repeated word was beautiful, but she spoke about more specific aspects of me since she meant beauty holistically. She even remembers the first day we met. Another student contacted me and said something special to me about me for me through me. From the last update, I received some negative comments, but I don’t write it for those. I write it for the positive comments that I receive, not to receive them, but to know that somehow some boring writing about sparks in my life can do some good in the life of someone else. I’m nourished by service.