Monday, March 9, 2015

Words Have Meaning

When I was 11, my "cousin"/close friend's dad was killed in one of the high profile postal shootings that gained media attention and led to the coining of the phrase "going postal."

Her aunt was her mother's sister and my dad's brother's wife. So we weren't actual cousins, but we shared an aunt and uncle and our families grew up in the same neighborhood and were long time friends so cousins worked for us. We were also the same age and enjoyed each others company which made for good friends and a lifelong connection.

When her dad was murdered I remember my parents telling me what happened and that she would need extra love and compassion as a friend. I remember her confusion and sadness, I remember my family avoiding the news when the children were around for a while (there were many news reports, and not all of them positively covered her father so my family wanted to keep the negativity away from the healing experience), and I remember my confusion and sadness. At 11, it's hard to comprehend murder, anger, workplace violence, mental illness and loss.

As a person with OCD, it becomes an unimaginable worry that lodges in your brain.

This event was definitely one of the roots of my obsession with murderers and my family dying.

I worry about murderers a lot. Not always related to the workplace, but sometimes. It's taken me a long time to manage that fear so it doesn't disrupt my life on a daily basis, but it's a thought/worry that passes through my head several times a week (or more).

Worrying about my family members dying is rarely an obsession anymore. But in my early 20s, when my OCD was at its worst, I was plagued with worries, dreams, thoughts about my family dying. It wasn't always from shootings, actually rarely from shootings, more likely from car crashes. It seemed more likely I suppose. Not that OCD needs a reason to be rational. I woke up crying sobbing for months on end. That obsession gradually faded away and only once in a while does it crop up.

"Going postal" isn't a hugely popular slang phrase. But it's popular enough that I hear it every once in while. It's weird to have an intimate connection with a popular phrase, especially when people use it offhand and have no idea the power behind the phrase, particularly for me. Every time I hear it I have a flash of memories from childhood that pass through my brain. It's not unbearable, it's not even really something I'd call painful, but more this weird feeling of "Oh, you just said that. You have no idea of its weight." Sometimes I educate people about it, sometimes I just let it pass because I know that they didn't mean anything by it and it would cast a shadow over the conversation at hand.

It makes me think about how words have power, even if we don't know it. And it also makes me particularly sensitive to people's requests to not use language that is hurtful. Whether it's the "n word," the "r word," the "t word" or any other word that wounds someone, I don't assume to know why nor do I ask. It's not my business to know why or how it hurts them; I just note it, apologize and pledge to do better. The English language is full of amazing words. Using words that don't hold long histories of pain and personal suffering is a good idea. It can have a tremendous impact on our world if we'd all just try to be a little nicer.

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