I remember the exact place where I was standing in my house 3 years ago, when the phrase just came out of my mouth. In one flippant moment, I blurted out (a popular phrase amongst the middle schoolers with whom I’d been spending a great deal of time) as if it were a normal part of my vocabulary, “That’s so gay”. The moment it came out of my mouth I had an internal mix of surprise, guilt, shame, and “you know better”. The worst part was making eye contact with my gay friends in the group as I made the statement and seeing the shock and hurt in their eyes. In one moment, in three small words, I damaged relationships, and I hurt some friends that I loved. My stupid mouth, got me in trouble.
I still feel a pit in my stomach every time I think about that moment. It’s one of those, ‘I wish that I could rewind and fix it’. But I can’t, because words hurt. No amount of apologizing can fix what has been spoken.
Which brings me to Ann Coulter’s statement on twitter this week during the final presidential debate, in which she tweeted, “I highly approve of Romney’s decision to be kind and gentle to the retard.” (The r-word was her nickname for President Obama).
My initial reaction was anger, followed by disgust, followed by disappointment, followed by a desire to write a scathing blog. There isn’t much that gets me fired up faster than hearing someone use the word “retarded” to describe anything. Close second is using the word “gay” to describe something (but as you have just read, I don’t have a perfect track record with that one).
I don’t think there was any correlation between her tweet and my subsequent vomiting, but shortly after I got wind of the tweet, a stomach virus knocked me out and left me no energy for writing, only thinking, and the more I thought, the more I was reminded of the countless times, like the one mentioned above and many others that I will not share today, when I have said awful, unforgivable things.
The good news for me, is that I’m not famous, so when I say stupid things, I don’t have millions of people holding me accountable.
I wish I could write from a place of superiority to Ann and others, as one who had never made hurtful remarks, that using the word “retarded” is hurtful and disrespectful. I wish I could tell her about all the folks I’ve worked with who have intellectual delays and asperger’s and autism who are usually really insightful when it comes to being teased. I wish I could say that I had never made politically incorrect statements, but the ugly, embarrassing truth is, that I have.
I’m guessing that all of the backlash and even a few grace-filled responses have Ann thinking. I know that my many mess ups have gotten me thinking. And with each grand faux pas, I have had place myself at God’s feet and beg for His forgiveness. I have had to confess that I have used the gift of words to tear down rather than build up. I have had to ask God to tame my tongue and teach me how to use it to love others.
I realized this week that I’m not that different from Ann Coulter. I need to be constantly reminded that my words have power, and that I need to weigh the power before I wield it.