Every year I watch The Kennedy Center Honors. The most profound year was last year. I don’t believe I’ll ever forget it. Those honored were Diana Ross, Steve Martin, Martin Scorsese, Brian Wilson and pianist Leon Fleisher. It was, once again, a wonderful way to end the year. But it was also very sad for me.
Art Garfunkel gave an inspiring, poetic speech about song writer and Beach Boys founder, Brian Wilson. He called Wilson “our Mozart of Rock and Roll.” I guess one would have to be a musician to understand what a gift Brian Wilson was given. His early love for the vocal harmonies of the Four Freshman, plus his attraction for the energy of Chuck Berry inspired Brian to compose never-before-heard counter-point melodies of great sophistication, but with a beat for dancing.
I kept watching the face of this genius, Brian Wilson, and the sadness in me grew until I could no longer hold back the tears. We heard Garfunkel enumerate the successes of the Beach Boys, thanks to Brian, and then he said, “But Brian’s spirit was too fragile. He lived in the prison of his own days.” All during this entire tribute, the stoicism on Brian’s face was sad and creepy. No emotion, whatsoever, was visible through the entire tribute. Even when Hootie and the Blowfish were performing “I Get Around” and “California Girls” – the entire audience was dancing, clapping, singing along, including President and First Lady Bush – Brian never flinched. He eventually was able to clap his hands, but that face showed no emotion whatsoever.
Because I know something about Brian’s upbringing with his domineering, abusive father, and the guilt Brian felt over his father’s suicide when Brian fired him as manager, I was over-empathizing with his pain. I was being transported back to a time when I, too, was being physically and verbally abused. During this voyage, I realized something for the first time: The physical abuse, though it was bloody and painful at the time, was now only a fact like any other fact in my life. I no longer felt the pain of the physical abuse, nor did I have any emotions (or dreams) associated with it.
It was those words that still stung, all these years later.
Words have enormous power, either positive or negative, but never neutral. Those words my mother used still echo, at times, as if I were standing in a deep canyon and the words were playing in quadraphonic sound. If I am tired, sick, or if I have been let down by someone I trusted, those old tapes automatically turn on and beat me down – unless I immediately reject them.
Proverbs 18:21 says, The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. Now I realize King Solomon literally had the power of life and death in his words. He was the King! But metaphorically, our tongues also have the power of life and death because words spoken, especially by parents, are potent.
God’s words are omnipotent, and our words are potent because we are made in the image of God. And to a child, the parent is God. If Mama or Daddy says a child is stupid, it is gospel to that child!
I don’t care what a child is hit with – a hand, a belt, or a switch – nothing does more damage to a kid than negative words. The damage is not apparent immediately, but it is much more pernicious in the formation of that child’s soul (mind, will, emotions).
I’ve known of cases where the parent verbally abuses a child, then tries to make up for it with toys, treats, or even hugs. But it never works!
Only words can wipe away words!
I was very blessed to have surrogates at critical growth times in my life. I know these surrogate mothers, sisters, and brothers were brought into my life by a loving God Who knew they could wipe away some of the damage I sustained in my family of origin. Margaret, the teacher who changed my self-perception was one of the most affirming people God blessed me with. She told me what a “wonderful story teller I was” instead of what a “liar” I was! She praised my creativity instead of telling me how I brought shame to my father! She made me see the talent God had given me in music, poetry, and writing.
What is amazing to me is that my mother was loaded with artistic talent. She was a brilliant artist, dress designer, and a musician. But she never inspired me to anything but failure because of her words. However, because of Margaret’s words I later earned a living as a pianist and as a vocalist. I was able to earn two degrees in Music Composition.
Because of Margaret’s encouragement, I won dozens of awards with my piano and vocal performances. (This made my parents value me. How ironic.) Because of Margaret’s words I became an award-winning poet and writer. Oh, genetically I was set up with natural talent in the arts; but bound by the negative words planted during my childhood, I would never have made it without the healing words of Margaret.
Margaret’s words of inspiration and encouragement literally saved my life. There were times when the pain was so bad I did not want to live. But then Margaret’s words – those words inspiring me, encouraging me, praising me – would come to me like a sweet refrain of God’s fresh spring rain, washing away all of the negative power binding me.
I wondered, as I watched Brian’s face, did he ever have inspiring, encouraging, healing words to wash away the ones from his father’s voice? I realize Brian became very self-destructive after his father was gone; but the words spoken by his dad lived on. That’s why I was so sad watching this brilliant man, totally incapable of expressing any emotion at all. I thanked God, right then, right there, for the gift of healing He had given me through surrogates’ inspiring, encouraging, and wonderfully healing words. I pray Margaret is eating the fruit of her life-affirming words, for I am truly blessed.
(c) 2007-2009 April Lorier