Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Words Once Spoken Cannot Be Recalled

Et semel emissum volat irrocabile verbum. ~Horace

I wrote a number down on my hand today.  It was 038162.  I can still see it faintly.  I had a student who was suspended and I tried to enter a grade for her but she had been taken out of the system for the suspension and not put back in.  If you know your Goffman or Foucault, you'll know instantly that my student knew her number and repeated it for me without hesitation.  She identifies with that number and so do so many of my students.  It's how they pay for lunch.  It's how they see their grades and how they get into and out of trouble.  It dehumanizes them and quantifies their lives ala George W Bush and his No Child Left Behind.  It's also a convenient product of the technological age.  In some ways, the number affords my kids some anonymity and in others, it sanitizes their place in society.  You don't hug child number 44728.  You don't give a sweet valentines book mark to student #732914679.  But you do punish the heck out of the miscreant marked #16739428565.  Or was that "inmate"?  

Anyway, I emailed the counselor about the snafu and to get her put back in the system.  But the counselors are pretty busy right now, dealing with the emotional fallout of the death of one of our teachers on Monday.  

Yes, someone died.  No, it was not a natural or expected death.  No, I'm not going to come out and say it.  

Death is irrevocable, much like a word spoken in anger.  There is a saying in Arabic, or so I am told.  The word is "Talik" or "Tarik", and if you say it in quick succession three times, you are divorced from you spouse and it cannot be undone.  Some actions you cannot take back and some words, once they leave your mouth, will do the harm they will do of their own accord, with or without your apologies.  

So yes, today was a shitty day.  There was a bunch of crying in middle school.  More than usual for hormonal teenagers.  I hugged a lot of kids and dealt with difficult and quiet questions.  Sometimes, kids just wanted to come and sit in a safe place.  Four extra kids snuck into my 7th hour class and DID THE LESSON PLAN so that they could be there.  They weren't even my students.  Ah well. 

After ten hours of work, I got a text from a friend who asked me for a ride.  I've struggled with my feelings about even discussing him and don't do so very often.  He has not found sobriety, not stayed in a rehab.  But tonight he asked me for a ride and I haven't seen him in awhile.  So I went and picked him up. And we haven't spent more than ten minutes together in months, so I asked if I could buy him dinner.  Yes.  

So we had dinner and caught up.  He is not well. He is staying with a friend and doing the best he can.  I asked about him mom- the person in the world who he cares about more than anyone else.  Or so I thought.  She is not speaking to him. And neither is his family because of his sobriety. During dinner he casually said to me, "The thing is, that I annoy my family.  I just try to lay low. When I was in AA, it was the only time they ever liked me.  Funny thing is, that when I was in AA, yeah, that's the only time I've ever just hated myself."  

I thought about those words all the way back to the place where he was staying.  And I chose my next ones carefully. I just think there is enough suffering in the world without all of my judgments. My day was rough and I know that 90% of the world had a worse day than I did.  I said that if he was sober or if he was using or drunk or high, I did not care.  My friendship and love and care of him as a human is not dependent on factors such as what he chooses or needs to put in his body. I told him that I value him as a person, and I do truly enjoy his company. I'll be happy to visit or talk or hang out whenever possible, as long as he was straight during those times.  And I vow never to  make him feel like less than a person just because he has addiction issues.  

We are not a number. We are people. We are humans with emotions and needs and a desire for care and compassion. We should not be classified and sorted.  We should be seen. And heard. And when we need it, we should be comforted and spoken to with kindness.  

Because a word once spoken, a deed once done, cannot be recalled. 


  1. Hey the title is right, words spoken cannot be recalled, if you hurt anyone by saying one wrong word, that word will remain in mind of that person for long time...
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  2. “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
    by Maya Angelou