One word can cause so much pain, re-ignite such grief and resentment. “It’s just a word” I may say to try and explain it away. But I cannot deny my own eyes; this ‘harmless’ word has cut deep. I cannot deny my heart; it senses the heartache I have caused. I wish I could just disappear.

I was sitting at my local pub many years ago, one night with two older koori ladies that I loved and cared for very much. One was my mates’ mother and the other a local lady we knew well. We were enjoying a few drinks and many laughs. The word simply rolled off my tongue during a story, just like it had so many times before. I cannot believe I had managed to avoid such a dreadful situation for so long having this word in my vocabulary. I guess we really do know that there are times when this so called harmless word should not be used. It just flowed from my mouth like any other word as if it was completely innocent. As soon as it reached their ears I knew I had slung a vicious slur that I would have done anything to take back.

Their faces instantly turned from amused and interested to confused and concerned. It wasn’t anger that I sensed, it was bitter disappointment. They knew I loved them and I know they loved me, but this was an error that could not go unnoticed. I can still hear the way my mate’s mother so slowly and deliberately said “I haaaaaate that word”. I felt about two inches tall.

I will never forget this horrible moment and the shame it left me with. Nor will I forget the kindness offered to me from these two beautiful women. Rather than hurling abuse or a giving me a stern lecture, they took the time to explain to me the pain they felt every time they heard that word. They shared stories of how cruelly it had been used against them and their loved ones. I will always remember and cherish their patience and forgiveness. So many important lessons in life we learn outside the classroom.

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