Slogans warn that words are weapons, but to me they have always been precious gifts that often conjure magic. So I was unprepared for the tirade that reduced me to tears.
I slept until the last possible minute that morning then jumped in the car in my pajamas to drive my daughter to school. The road to the high school is blinding, facing the rising sun, so I got in the right lane like I always do, followed the car in front of me, and turned into the busy parking lot like the parade of cars ahead of me.
My daughter and I were laughing, and singing along with the radio. What I apparently missed in the glare was the outstretched hand of the policeman in the intersection telling me to stop.
I thought he meant the traveling lane to my left so in I went. After I dropped her off, though, the cop stopped all traffic, blocked my path with his body and then walked over and stuck his finger in my face when I rolled the window down.
“THE NEXT TIME I TELL YOU TO STOP YOU’D BETTER STOP!” he screamed. “WHAT’S WRONG WITH YOU?!?”
I opened my mouth to explain and he cut me off. “YOU’RE THE TYPE THAT’S GONNA CAUSE A BAD ACCIDENT HERE SOME MORNING. WAKE UP!”
First of all, I’m one of the best drivers I know. I got my start with my dad when I was 9. More than that, I’m not used to being screamed at. Especially not in public. And not by a
I was embarrassed. I felt powerless and anonymous. I wanted to say, “Hey, you can’t talk to me like that. I may be in pajamas with my hair sticking up but I’m somebody! I work for
The Big Paper. My taxes pay your salary!”
But I didn’t. I slunk home with my esteem in the toilet, reminded of times the adults in my life yelled, from my father, when I was young, to a math teacher’s shouting and abuse. And how wrong it is to use words to debase and dominate, instead of uplift.
Maybe the cop was having a bad day. He might have wished he was on an undercover drug bust, instead of in school traffic. I don’t much care either way. He was wrong. But in that moment he reminded me how anger and words don’t mix, and the importance of using what comes from our mouths for good. And that’s a lesson I’m always willing to learn.