What can bring on pleasure and open the flood gates of Hell? It is small, yet dynamic and considered the strongest muscle in the body.
Innocently it sits, pink and sweet, in our mouths waiting to unleash its pleasure or pain. When our tongue lashes out the nasty over the good, we accept it and think we have no control over this randy little thing. The Bible even tells us so (though there is more behind this verse than the words on the surface); “But no man can tame the tongue” James 3:3. So we justify and rationalize all the negativity that comes from it. But in all the afterthoughts of I’m sorry and I didn’t mean it, and I don’t usually say things like that will never erase the damage done by the slip of a slippery tongue.
Float back in time with me, twenty something years in the past, back to a day when a young teenage girl sat face to face with her dance teacher.
A reached out hand, a seemingly sympathetic pat on the thigh and words that cut a groove through a heart.
Words innocently breathed in the face of a girl who would never forget their meaning, weight and condemnation.
“Your thighs are still too big to be a swan.”
I sat in that studio room alone with this instructor three years in a row listening and absorbing the same sentence over and over. Once even trying the tutu on to prove I did indeed fit into the costume (and I did), but still a Swan Lake swan I would never be. Instead I danced the role of a peasant.
This story is simplistic and not horrific. It is not a story intended to bring tears to the eyes of the reader or meant to tear painfully at heartstrings—the little chubby girl, too fat to dance the role she wanted. But it is a story of loss and pain and proof. Words wound and scar. Words leave traces on the soul that they were once said. Words lie.
I wasn’t fat. In fact I looked quite similar to all my dancer friends. But, her words taught me otherwise. The tackles, thoughtless (though to her innocuous) words changed me the first time she spoke them into existence. I had begun to believe I was too big and therefore not worthy (my eyes well up and my throat clenches every time I read this sentence). By years two and three, I knew it, I knew this lie. It had become true to me. I was a big, fat, silly dancer girl who’d never dance a lead role.
This new knowledge of myself pushed my already present teenage insecurities into overdrive. Life, in many aspects, became about my body; diets, sex, and constant worry I was too fat and not good enough.
The words she spoke bore deep into my heart and I carried them with me. I carry them with me. No amount of I’m sorry from her will ever erase the damage done to my psyche. I know she meant no harm, though harm was done. I know there was no malice in her heart, though she ripped a hole in mine. I know she spoke the way she did because she grew up in an overly strict and weight conscious dance studio, but now I am overly weight conscious, unnecessarily so.
As the years rolled on and the dance studio changed, we eventually stopped performing Swan Lake. I never danced the roll. There is a tender place in me for that show still. I did however; go on to dance principle parts in Nutcracker over the years, which hold their rightful place of importance in my life. But, I danced them with a deep knowing that I was fat and probably didn’t really deserve the roll anyway. A strange mix of joy for the part and pity I felt handed down to me, Oh give the poor, fat girl the roll, it’s her turn anyway. The mind is a tricky place, forcing one to believe what’s not there.
At 39 years old, despite the compliments Nathaniel gives me, or my mom, sons and friends, I’m still that “fat” self-conscious teenage inside not good enough to dance. Careless words are matches lighting fires that destroy who we are inside. Don’t be a struck match on someone else’s life, unless you spark love, joy, laughter, peace, truth and kindness. For all we say, every breath uttered sparks something in someone.
For all the people in your life, your wife, husband, boyfriend, girlfriend, friend, neighbor; Be the spark of light and love not pain and lies.