The most unexpected experiences - and scenes - reveal life more fully so we may move through it more freely.
It’s Not What You Said, It’s Where It Hurt
“You is kind. You is smart. You is important.” You may or may not recognize that line from the 2011 movie The Help. It’s the expression that maid and nanny Aibileen Clark taught sweet little Mae Mobley to repeat to herself.
You is kind. You is smart. You is important.
Aibileen, played by the exquisite Viola Davis, is on a worthy mission to nurture Mae Mobley’s sense of self confidence. However, maybe I’m reading too deep into the story (I have a tendency to do that) but I suspect that Aibileen has greater goals than simply growing the kid’s confidence when she teaches this phrase to Mae.
Remember, Mae’s mother, Elizabeth Leefolt, is far from warm-hearted. She’s superficial, passive-aggressive, insulting, basically no one’s first-draft pick for the fun team. She gives us Elizabeths a pretty nasty rep. And poor Mae Mobley has her for a mother. One telling scene is when Mae, a pleasantly plump little one, tells Elizabeth that she’s hungry in front Elizabeth’s snobby posse. Elizabeth responds by turning to her friends and making the snarky remark, “She’s always hungry,” evoking shallow giggles from the group.
Don’t get me wrong. I, too, joke and complain about my kids’ constant snack requests all the livelong day. But it’s clear here that Elizabeth is snidely poking fun at Mae’s fuller figure.
The incident indicates the Elizabeth-inflicted wound Mae Mobley will grow up bearing. Frequent criticism from parents, even if born from good intentions, can wreak havoc on someone’s emotional wellbeing. As she grows, a kid in Mae’s position will likely succumb to an eating disorder or to the general belief that she’s not thin enough, pretty enough, or good enough in general.
I wonder if Aibileen senses the onset of this wound and is preparing Mae Mobley to speak and believe the truth that she is good enough. Because from our wounds bleed innumerable lies that wreak havoc on our lives, particularly our relationships, for years to come.
The other day, someone said something hurtful to me. It was not a direct attack but it was condescending, cutting, and it hurt. I chose not to retaliate because I’ve made that mistake enough times in my past to know that it’s almost always futile. So instead, my steadfast husband received a slew of explicit texts venting about it, which I’m not proud of, and I called my dad.
Here’s the thing: Logically, I was very aware that this person’s statement was far from worthy of a single speck of my time or energy. But emotionally, I was hurt and angry, and knew that suppressing emotions is unhealthy.
Stephen Covey wrote that “unexpressed feelings never die: they’re buried alive and come forth later in uglier ways. Psychosomatic illnesses, particularly of the respiratory, nervous, and circulatory systems, often are the reincarnation of [emotions] repressed.” Yikes.
Emotions, particularly anger, arise to be addressed and released, not repressed. So essentially, I was struggling to find the delicate balance between suppressing emotions and overdramatizing an insignificant situation.
My dad asked why exactly I was so upset by it, and that’s when I realized that it’s my own wound, which has bred insecurity and self-doubt, that this person’s comment had sunken into. That insecurity that has me doubting my value as a wife, a mother, a human being was aroused and reinforced and I was intensely disturbed by it.
But I have to choose to forgive this person, set myself free of any bitterness that enslaves me to them, and address my own issues.
Because like Mae Mobley is being taught to, I need to return to the truth that I am good enough, that I’m not a failure, and that I matter.
I wish it was this simple. I wish it was just a matter of identifying the root wound, rejecting the lies, laying the event to rest and moving right along. But identifying wounds – whether they were intentionally inflicted or not – and the lies they’ve bled into our minds is hard work and an ongoing process. It takes a great deal of self-awareness for someone to reach into their past, find and confront the wounds, and properly grieve them.
To many people, grief carries an ugly connotation. But in truth, grief is good. REALLY good. And essential for healing. Grief is the allowing of emotions to surface, whether that’s done through sobbing, screaming, or whatever else you’re better off doing behind closed doors, and not during a staff meeting for your college newspaper. (Don’t ask.)
In their life-changing book Captivating, John and Stasi Eldredge explain that St. Augustine wrote, “The tears . . . streamed down, and I let them flow as freely as they would”. The authors go on to declare, “Grief is a form of validation; it says the wound mattered. It mattered. You mattered. That’s not the way life was supposed to go . . . Let the tears come.”
You is kind. You is smart. You is important.
I can’t say for sure if you’re kind or smart. But I know with every fiber of my being that you are important. Because no human being is not. And no life is not worth examining.
Remember what Socrates, the Greek philosopher, said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Our emotional reactions, especially the intense ones, speak volumes about our pasts, where we’ve been hurt, and are in need of healing. And once that process takes place, we are a step closer to that old “sticks and stones” adage ringing true in our lives.