Thursday, July 23, 2009

My Favorite Word

A few years ago, when we lived in sunny (irony notice) Evans City, Pennsylvania, I took the kids sledding in the back yard. But the hill from our detached garage wasn't quite long enough. So I build a bank that turned them 90' so they had some room to coast.

This worked great for single riders, but when I put Isaac and Emma in the sled, their combined weight was enough to sling them up to the lip, crush the barrier, and over they went. Down the back side of the bank, down the maybe 60' slope into our neighbor's yard (their yard sat about six feet below ours on the hill).

I was waiting to help the kids up where I expected them to stop, and when their sled took its new direction, I dove to catch them- seriously, it was very heroic, except that I missed- and out came my 'favorite' word as the front of the sled glanced off the corner of the neighbor's shed. Fortunately, everybody was okay, though crying.

I like to use it when somebody slams on brakes in the rain in front of me on the interstate, right when I'm changing CDs. I reserve it for special occasions like these, maybe two or three times a year.

In 'A Christmas Story', Ralphie says about his Old Man, "He worked in profanity the way other artists might work in oils or clay. It was his true medium; a master." I know I'm not in that league, but still. I haven't purposely sworn in eleven years, yet it's so deep in my brain that when I'm in pure reaction mode, out it comes.

My sister told me that she read a study (here is the article that people who cussed could hold their hands in ice cold water significantly longer than people who were asked to say neutral words describing a table. I wonder if the effect would have been the same if they'd said "Oh my heck!" or "Crud" or "Dig-doggety!"

I can say whatever words I like—on a physical level they're just phonemes. Just vibrations in my ear that my mind has been trained to associate with certain meanings. When I say house, an image pops into my mind.

But some words have more than meaning; there is an emotion. Home. Love. Friendship. Affair. Rape. Concentration camp (ok- that's two words, but give me a break). There are real physiological responses to "loaded" words such as these- blood flow, electrical conductivity on the skin, and heart rate all react.

Individuals with copralalia associated with Tourette's Syndrome do not use words to describe a table. How does the brain know what words to spout off?

Why does it matter what ethnic names we use? Does it really hurt to be called a 'cracker'? I knew it wasn't good when somebody called me that in seventh grade in my school in the projects. (Thanks for 'fixing' racial proportions via bussing, Tampa!) Tone matters. Facial cues matter. We associate every experience with its related group, and when a stimulus is applied- when the word is spoken, up pops our past.

Post Traumatic Distress Disorder happens because dangerous or very bad experiences have gotten soaked up into groups of experiences, some appropriate, some not. A gun shot is a reason to seek cover, but not the backfire from a car.

My husband and I were robbed at gunpoint when we were dating. I had driven up to Jacksonville with my family, and he had driven down from South Caroline, and we all planned to go to the Stephen Foster Music Festival (Great event, btw). When Nathan got to the hotel, just he and I went out to Burger King. We were totally naïve and sat in the car to eat. A young man in a Tupac shirt came up beside us and took twenty bucks, less the price of a Whopper. I do not consider myself racist. I couldn't have dated a black man (would you prefer African-American?) in high school if I thought all black people were degenerate or lesser. But when it is dark and I am feeling vulnerable, that experience is back, and I lock my doors. It's a survival mechanism. Thank Darwin.

My church has a little handbook on appropriate behavior called "For the Strength of Youth" (link below) but it applies to all ages. Under language, it lists this scripture "Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good. (Ephesians 4:29)" and it says "When you use good language, you invite the Spirit to be with you."

God knows that when my kids are heading down an icy slope straight for the corner of a shed that I'm scared. I'm sure he understands that and that I don't deliberately swear. But what has happened in my heart?

I don't believe that cursing lowers overall levels of anger. Cursing gets associated with anger and loss of control, and the more you use obscenities, the more you remember your anger. And memories are real. They affect us physiologically very similarly to actual experiences.

I believe that the Holy Ghost can be with me as long as I am striving to do my best. I believe that Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father want me to be "one" even as they are one. I know I'm not perfect, and I don't expect to be. But I can be good. I can train my thoughts. I have done it, and it is possible. What God wants from me is effort, not perfection.

The funny thing is that people can't say eight words on network TV (Stop it. I know you're trying to figure out what they are), but it is worse, in my opinion, to use the names of Jesus Christ and Heavenly Father without respect. Profanity is just profanity. But using the names of deity as exclamations when the room makeover is revealed, or when somebody breaks a vase is linking our Father and our Savior with the same group of experiences and emotions as the 'bad words'. I wonder what the correlation is between praying, and over-all respect of God's name.

Heck, I bet it's high.

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