I came home crying.

At school, children had made fun of me, mocked me and the mean words remained lingering in my head.

My mother desperately wanted to know the cause of my tears and I went on to explain to my mother some children at school had made fun at me, mocking my ability to run (Yeah I used to fall over my own feet) and even calling me racial slurs such as “kaffir”.

“Are you hurt?” My mother asked.  

“No” I cried.

Then she went on to say to me something to me, more accurately taught me a lesson I will never forget for the rest of my life.

“Henry, say this, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Say it.”

And I said it, with tears streaming down my face, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

My mother made me say it to  myself a few more times to make sure that it had stuck inside my head. I felt better saying those words. A lot better. It was almost as if nothing ever happened at school that day, because I realized I wasn’t hurt and it was only words. I came to see that words are empty unless I give meaning to them.

The next day, I went to school armed and ready to face those words as I knew they’d arrive at my doorstep sooner or later. When insults and racial slurs got hurdled at me during intervals, I would simply ignore them with my new wisdom in mind. My adversaries were confused and helpless as they realized their words had no effect, in fact, it was making them look silly. It was in that moment, in the face of their helplessness without their words, I knew what my mother had instilled in me worked and it strengthened me.

It still strengthens me today.

Now, what did I learn last semester?

 

To not try is self-betrayal

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