There was once a famous (in our family, anyway) debate around our kitchen table regarding the “R” word. You know the one. “Retard”. It wasn’t over what you might think; no one was endorsing use of the word. One of our members objected to the word’s very existence and thought it should be stricken from the English language. Two of us defended the word’s right to exist. I was one of the two defending it.
It’s a loaded word, right? Currently, the word is used as an insult or slur, although it certainly wasn’t always used that way. But these days, everyone knows what someone means when they throw it out there. At the time of my defense, Lucy hadn’t been diagnosed with any sort of special need. Retrospectively, I maintain my position.
I am an absolute proponent of free speech. As someone who uses words consciously to convey feelings and ideas to a targeted audience, I want to have every possible tool at my disposal to do that. Not only that, but you may have noticed that have I strong opinions regarding certain issues that are at the forefront of the political stage these days. I have taken my words in protest to the street to voice things that I believe to be unjust. There is a reason freedom of speech was at the top of our forefathers’ list of certain “unalienable rights”, falling distinctly in the category of “Liberty”. Oppressing speech in any way endangers a body’s ability to defend itself. Oppressing speech is the first step in oppressing thought. So.
As a proponent of free speech, I can’t defend striking any word from the English language, specifically, nor any language, generally. Because erasing a word erases part of a story. It may be beautiful, or it may be horribly ugly, but either way it is history, and history is knowledge. It is how we learn to adapt, grow, and move forward as human beings.
That being said, I am a proponent of personal responsibility. I believe that words are heavy. I believe that words are magic. When a person picks up a word, they must wield it with care. I absolutely believe in free speech. But I believe a person must be aware of the consequences of using certain charged words. I will say, in light of recent tragic events, I don’t ever believe that violence is an appropriate response to a body exercising free speech.
So framing it that way…Eden has a friend. Well, she has lots of friends. This particular friendship though, has seen some real ups and downs. It went through such a low period at one point, with this person treating Eden very badly, that I am astonished to this day that there was ever any sort of recovery. I suppose that demonstrates Eden’s ability to forgive.
During the time that the two girls had absolutely zero communication, Eden revealed that her former friend had once called Lucy a “little retard”. I’m typing it out, rather than representing it with the letter, because I want you, the Reader, to feel at least a small bit of the shock that I felt as the Mother upon hearing that.
Of course, I immediately saw red. My opinion of this girl had already plummeted after watching her be cruel and deliberately harmful toward Eden. This extra bit of news had it crashing through the floor. At that moment, this girl was beyond redemption in my book. She had not only demonstrated total ignorance, but a lack of moral character that I require from people with whom I choose to be acquainted. So I was done. Just so you know, Allen’s reaction was far less dramatic. He just called her an idiot and pointed out that she was 18, and kids aren’t known for their wisdom or sensitivity.
Imagine my surprise when months later, Eden starts hanging out with this girl again. I am still confounded by this. Again, I think it must speak to her ability to forgive. She would go hang out at this girl’s house. They would grab something to eat, or hang out with other friends or whatever.
I have only forbidden Eden from hanging out with one person ever, and that is the boyfriend who threatened her. I think she needs the personal freedom to figure out relationships and the kind of people who are worth the investment of her time and energy, and we’ve had plenty of conversation about that topic. So she’s on her journey in that regard, with occasional input from me. In this case, I made my feelings known about the resurrection of her friendship with this girl, but I left it to Eden to do what she wanted.
Last night was date night. Eden will frequently have a friend come over to help her watch Lucy while Allen and I go out to dinner. As I was leaving, Eden told me that that friend was coming over to help her.
I asked her why, particularly given the ugly thing she’d said. “I told her that was offensive, Mom. And she still loves Lucy.” I told Eden that I wanted said friend gone by the time I got home. She was.
I’ve been thinking about it. It appears that Eden is magnanimously forgiving, and determined to maintain that friendship. And it’s true that this girl is young. If Eden is willing to forgive past transgressions, then shouldn’t I be willing, as well? I mulled that over on my drive home last night and tried to talk myself into it.
A lot of these essays end with me coming to a realization that is loving, and expansive. This one doesn’t end that way.
Thinking about it this morning, I regret not forbidding her to come here. The truth is that I was leaving, and I didn’t want any drama with Eden as I was trying to go do something to relax and connect with my husband. We have had our share of drama here lately and I’m pretty worn out, to be honest. So I let it happen. But that sucks. While Eden would never let anyone be mean to Lucy, Lucy deserved better than being around someone who doesn’t see her for the amazing person she is. Even if that person was nice to her at the time. I should have prevented that.
And I’m not forgiving this girl. If there’s any virtue I consider my strong suit in relationships, it is patience. This means that I will give a person lots of time to show me who they are. Apparently, it means I will give them lots of rope, as well. Forgiveness is not my greatest virtue.
18 is young. But 18 is old enough to know better. I don’t want any word stricken from this history, and I believe in and will defend this girl’s absolute right to use any words she wants.
But not in my house. I am not running a democracy here.