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My mother’s mother was an awesome character, cursed like a sailor, rode a motorcycle with a sidecar, and drew lines down the back of her legs with an eyebrow pencil, so people would think she was wearing stockings. Stockings used to have seams up the back and during the depression and the war, stockings were in short supply. Nylon mostly went to making parachutes. No matter how rough and tumble you were, ladies never went out without “stockings,” gloves, and hat.

My grandmother taught me how to read when I was barely three and from that point on I was unstoppable. I’m not sure exactly how she managed it, but within a few days I was ciphering words and roughly beginning to read. She was a big fan of phonics and rhythm. I remember her playing piano to teach me the cadence in word sounds.  I’ve been hearing the music in words ever since.

There were two words my grandmother could not stand, “hate” and “can’t.” She could curse up a storm, but those two words were absolutely forbidden and she was vehement about it. I remember having a fit of some sort over a pair of pink tights and spitefully saying to her, “I hate and I can’t.” She threw a glass of water in my face. What can I say, I provoked her and it worked.

My grandmother often told me to completely remove the word “can’t” from your vocabulary. “Whether you believe you can or you believe you can’t you’re probably right.” I don’t remember who said that, but it sure was her philosophy. We say “can’t” over dozens of little things everyday without even thinking about it. “There’s no such thing as can’t,” she’d say, “only won’t or shouldn’t or don’t feel like it.” Can’t is a cop-out.

“Hate” she didn’t put up with either. “It’s too strong of a word for anyone to ever use,” she’d say. You do not hate, not ever. But she took it even farther, if other people hate you, it’s none of your business. You are not allowed to dismiss them because they be hatin on you. Accusing people of hating is demeaning and dehumanizing to those doing the hating.

Needless to say, this really puzzled me for a number of years, because who cares what they think, they’re haters! And therein lies the whole problem. When we look at people who hate, we bring that into ourselves. We wall ourselves off, and we dismiss anything they have to say, and we unintentionally accept that we are hated. Other people’s hatred is not your business. Don’t look at it or you’ll soon own it.

The wisdom behind those words became very clear to me during the political season of 2008. Suddenly everyone was a racist or a sexist and those words were used to try and shame and silence people, to dismiss them. You’re a hater, so I can dismiss anything you have to say and dehumanize you.

It’s interesting to me, at a time when America should have been celebrating our first black president and the evidence of how far America has come, people were out sowing racial divisions and accusing half the country of racism.

Accusations of sexism really came into play too, at a time in the Western world where women enjoy more freedom and rights than any other time in history. Rather then joyously celebrating our good fortune, suddenly women were oppressed and everybody was sexist.

These things still make me cranky today because there’s a kind of theft that happened there, being robbed of all that is good and golden about our country and the people who live here, the progress we’ve made.

But it also makes me cranky because we start to believe the stories we tell ourselves and kids especially will take that upon themselves. They have nothing to compare and contrast it to. Young girls growing up are not celebrating all the freedom and blessings that come from living in the US, they’re running around looking for evidence of their own alleged misery and oppression, a pursuit that has gotten so silly, they often find their treasure in a cartoon shirt a scientist is wearing or some elaborate theory involving micro-aggression.

My grandmother would be horrified by what is going on today because we really do seem to have created a culture that revolves around those two words she disliked so much, “can’t” and “hate.” Those two words will rob you of your power faster than anything else.

 

****Repost from 2015