A Special Message

Courage, Family Challenges Add comments

This blog was written by my daughter, Billy’s sister, Mary de Wit.

Words are venerated in my family. We attempt to use them with precision, whether writing or brainstorming or popping puns like shuttlecocks across the table at each other. They are electrically charged and elicit visceral responses, and we are sensitive to alternative word uses.

This summer, I watched five boys play baseball. Their voices were isolated and magnified by a leggy hedge and the gloaming. “Hit the ball, ree-tard!” yelled one of them. I cringed. We never said retarded in a pejorative sense at our house, where the word indicated a badge of courage, a moniker of challenge. “Retard” was the local pronunciation for no longer working your job of twenty-five years. And retarded was carefully used as a synonym for slow. Progress may be retarded, but still made.

The word “special” holds high voltage with us. If you were called special around our table, you may have had Down syndrome, or you may have received all A’s on your report card. You may have made it through a rigorous Freshman semester at the Citadel, or conducted an oxygen exchange experiment with frogs. You may have sold a million dollars’ worth of insurance in a month. Or maybe you raised four children, taught Kindergarten and commuted to a university to earn a degree. All of those things were considered special.

Our family was bound together with low-tack adhesive like masking tape. Occasionally realigned, changes left historical records in batik-like patterns after the paints spattered with each move, each project, each endeavor. It takes time. The process is sometimes retarded by circumstance. The outcome is special: a work of art.

16 Responses to “A Special Message”

  1. darby Says:

    This is beautifully written. I love words and once spent a half hour "arguing" with a good friend before realizing we were on the same side of the issue. One word used incorreclty led to, shall we say, a lively exchange instead of shared understanding.

  2. Jane Schulz Says:

    Thank you for sharing, Darby. My next blog tackles such a word. Hope to have your input.

  3. Stacy Augustine Says:

    I’ve read quite a few essays on this subject, and yours is one of the best. ” … where the word indicated a badge of courage, a moniker of challenge.” Would that more saw it this accurately.

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