Wednesday, May 25, 2022

What’s In a Name?

Climbing through masses of well-kept records in my mother’s briefcase the other day, I stumbled upon my high school report cards.

Dating all the way back to 1999 when I was in Form 1, they were tainted from start to finish.

From sciences to sports and even the arts, by the third term not even one teacher had anything good to say. Although with clenched teeth they claimed “I had potential”, not one of them believed I would become anything meaningful in society, let alone in life.

Their comments were laden with foreboding; they had washed their hands and there was really nothing left for me in their school- or the world- for that matter.

I can hardly blame them; I was talkative, playful, lacking in ambition and brazen. I seemed to lack the senses of right and wrong. It was as if I was mentally numb.

I stole money and I told lies. I was called every name under the sun. When fist-banging and head-poking failed them, my parents attempted the counselling route. But the thick skin I’d developed saw me playing different roles; the poor counsellor couldn’t understand how such a sweet girl could be accused of such hideous things.

The stress within my family was great; relationships suffered and each report card was a knife through the flesh.

In between three secondary schools, and two suspensions, my parents had to develop hi-tech shock absorbers to contend with the encounters parents’ days brought.

Being told I was atrocious, obstinate, a thief and had no future took its toll. I showed little emotion and rolled with the punches; I acted like I didn’t care, but deep in my subconscious I believed it all.

I had no faith in myself, didn’t believe I was worth loving and didn’t see my achievements as notable.

However, in Form 5, the heavens parted to answer my parents’ cries. It took God himself to stick His finger into my ears and clean out years of accumulated ear wax. He gently, but purposefully, scraped out layers of stubbornness and heaps of self-destructive tendencies.

All of a sudden, I had purpose; and I was going to pass my O’Levels. Losing friends in the process, I could only see my goal and nothing else. I remember gifting myself with a Cosmopolitan magazine and vowing to open it only after my exams.

At times I almost hated my parents for the things they said to me; I thought they’d given up on me. Upon skimming through my reports, I couldn’t possibly imagine the pain they went through.
Despite their multitude of threats, there must have been faith and hope deep down inside to cause them to pay for expensive private schooling year after year. Because they held on to a thread of hope, when I finally decided to take my life more seriously, the opportunities they had piled up for me were still at my disposal.

I am exceedingly grateful for them- I am fortunate to have them indeed. If they had lost hope in me, I would have been stranded after my marvellous epiphany took place. Thankfully, I am now a university graduate in my own right. Amen.

Queen, 24, narrates a story with a less fortunate ending. She tells of a former classmate who was constantly mocked for his brown teeth.

“We called him ‘chocolate teeth. He became so self-conscious he didn’t talk and he didn’t believe in himself. Recently, I spotted him at a construction site-he’s a manual labourer,” she says.
She proceeded to greet him and apologise for all the nasty things she ever said to him.

“He was still shy, but he accepted my apology. I felt so bad. I can’t help but wonder what he could have become if we hadn’t teased him the way we did,” she concedes mournfully.

Despite having been in the same class, their life paths are considerably different, with Queen being a graduate working in advertising. Meanwhile, this young man personifies the subliminal messages behind his teasing; “Who are you to talk, with your brown teeth? Your mouth has failed to meet the most basic social requirements. And who are you to be ambitious? You deserve very little, due to your offensive oral condition.” For all we know, this man could have become a world-class dental surgeon!

We tend to think that once we grow older we leave behind the ‘juvenile’ emotions that pass with the decades. But that’s not always the case. Words are powerful, and they cultivate stronger actions.
What’s in a name?

A name – be it Brian, Lisa, Stupid, Ugly, Failure, Beautiful or Victory-can hold your destiny.
We can unwittingly speak blessings or curses over people’s lives; mainly because of the human brain’s ability to retain, process and convert past experiences into one’s perceived reality.

In her song They, Jem sings, “And it’s ironic too, ‘cause what we tend to do, is act on what they say, and then it is that way…”

If we can’t change someone or directly impact their behaviour, we must accept that we are merely human and allow God to do His work.

However, we can tame our tongues and speak only what we wish to come into existence. At best we, or the person in question, will finally come around.

At the very least, one day, while sitting in the mayhem and stagnancy they may have brought upon themselves, they will remember someone somewhere once believed in them.

You may just be the person who encourages them to re-enter the school of life; you might just bestow upon them a name that inspires them to be greater.

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