Words Matter…even my own

As soon as I hit send I knew I was getting into an argument but I didn’t care.  I should have cared!  I had pointed out to the anonymous poster hiding behind his keyboard that unless he was speaking about an electrical spark, “retard” was a very archaic term that we no longer used to describe people, especially in a school setting.

I also pointed out that the accepted term today was “special” or challenged.  I said this using as neutral emotions as my fingers could muster.  I must have failed.  It probably was the line “if all you can use are terms like ‘the retard’, you probably don’t have a good argument.”  The post he returned to me began in all caps, “ARE YOU SOME KIND OF F****** LIBERAL PC ASSHOLE?”

I thought, “Just disengage you can’t win this one,” but instead my fingers typed “If treating people the way I would like to be treated is liberal then I guess I will plead guilty.”  “Yeah, a f****** libtard teacher just like I thought” was his retort. The train rolled off of the tracks with mine.  “Yeah, a sub-human asshole just like I thought and glad you were never one of my students,” I replied.

As soon as I hit send I wanted to get the comment back.  I was ashamed for giving him a forum to vent his pent-up anger upon.  I could tell from some of his other posts he was angry before he switched on his computer.  Even though I had pointed out earlier in a different post that it seemed the accepted strategy of the times was “when all else fails” express your opinion by calling people names.   I just couldn’t let him get away with the “libtard teacher” comment.  Still, I felt I had just fallen into that “name calling” strategy myself.

It is odd the way my brain works… ‘strangely’ odd.   After my exchange I found myself brooding and following a mental pathway leading to my grandmother’s front porch.  Her hands were moving “ninety miles an hour” as she talked to my Uncle Claude.

Uncle Claude Griffin was one of my granddad’s brothers and a favorite of my Nannie’s.  Short and stocky with a huge birthmark on his cheek, he looked like one of Nannie’s brothers instead of one of my Paw Paw’s tall lanky siblings.  His hands were “flyin’“ as were Nannie’s because they were “signing”.  A few minutes later my mother came up and added another pair of hands “ah flyin.’“

Occasionally they would pause while Claude dug into a shirt pocket, pulling out a pen and a small spiral notebook to write down words and phrases Nannie and mother did not understand or had forgotten due to lack of use.  As his hands flew he made sounds that were unrecognizable as words.  They were what I now characterize as “expressive grunts” and were a form of communication in their own way.  As his excitement increased so did the grunts.  Many times they would simply throw their hands above their heads and laugh.

Claude was a deaf-mute and had been since his birth.  Being too young to ask all of the questions I have now, I wonder how his family had the resources to send him to a school for the deaf and blind and where he went…and how did my mother and grandmother become so adept at signing?

Claude was called a “dummy.”  I don’t know the person I first heard use that term but don’t think that it was a family member.  It wasn’t a derogatory term then, it was just the accepted term of the period…like saying that someone was retarded from an earlier period as opposed to special or challenged.

Special is found at both ends of the spectrum and Claude was certainly special and challenged but he was no dummy.  He could read and write in two languages, sign, and English.  I find it hard to be proficient in my languages, English and “Southern hick”.  My Spanish is also “muy malo.”

Claude worked in the cloth room at Springs Mills in one of the top non-supervisory positions for as long as I knew him and would seem to have been a contributing member of society.  Again he was no dummy.  Claude lived on his own in a small apartment in Fort Mill.  While he did not drive, he seemed to be quite mobile, appearing at my grandmother’s front porch as if out of thin air.  The older me can’t help but wonder if he was lonely in the silence of his small apartment.  I would guess not.

Many years later, after my career path had taken an unexpected detour, I found myself coaching track at Landrum High School.  One of the schools that we competed against was the South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind, and “Land O’ Goshen!” I found them to be as normal (abnormal?) as any other group of teenagers.

While standing near a group of SCSDB track members cheering on a hearing impaired teammate, one youth of color exclaimed as the starter pistol was fired, “Man, look at that n$%%@r run!”  The youngster next to him said, “Now you know I’m blind and can’t see sh#t and neither can you, so what am I supposed to be looking at!”  Both of them just cackled over their joke along with everyone standing around them…including me.

I doff my hat to kids and adults who overcome their challenges, whether mental or physical.  I have found they desire as we all do, to be treated “just like everyone else” and to be treated fairly.  They don’t want to hide behind their challenges, don’t want a free pass, and like my SCSDB tracksters or my deaf-mute uncle, they can even joke about it.  They are pretty much like everyone else.  Those who rise to meet their challenges tend to be successful and those who don’t aren’t.

I wonder what challenges my poster has not met.  Does it make him feel better about himself using terms like “dummy” or “retard?”  I wonder if terms like “gimp,” “Mongolian idiot” or worse are included in his vocabulary.  I wonder if we are all losing our humanity?  Maybe if I had handled it better…no probably not.

From the book Pathways by Don Miller.  Pathways and others may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

If interested in romantic adventure, Don Miller writing as Lena Christenson may be accessed at https://www.amazon.com/-/e/B07B6BDD19

Image from https://www.wayfair.com/decor-pillows/pdp/barn-owl-primitives-words-matter-textual-art-plaque-owlp1039.html

 

 

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