Stick, stone and books

By Tafadzwa Razemba:

I went to a lovely little nursery school tucked away in a quiet suburb of Harare where I was a bit of a bully. Apparently I was slightly bigger than most of the kids and would use kicking, my teeth and fists to get my way. Honestly, I still find this hard to believe if not ridiculous, especially when you see my petite innocent self now. Anyway, moving on to grade school, a dramatic change happened and the opposite came to be. I am told that I decided to be nice… I, thanks to karma perhaps, became the victim of verbal bullying, which most people can understand considering how cruel children can be with their words. So my dear mother taught me a handy little phrase which helped me stand up taller and be brave and inevitably, a boring target. The phrase, 'Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.' When I think of it now, that phrase is not necessarily true, but if you believe it, especially as a five year old, you have all the power you need.

That brings me to the power of words, not necessarily the spoken word, as a lot has been written about that, but the written word. If you are like me, then you grew up immersed in books and all forms of literature from an early age. Where letters and words on paper, these days it's words on screens, formed alternate worlds that shaped our mindsets and opinions; From a juvenile wanting to find a magic potion so I can beat up people, like the Gauls in Asterix and Obelix, to wanting to become a damsel like Jane Eyre who would find her Mr Darcy when I grew up.  At different stages in my life I was reading certain types of books with specific themes, as if it was the fad of the moment. As a kid I progressed from reading comics like Betty & Veronica and Tintin, the genius works of Roald Dahl, to Judy Blume's books about being an adolescent which taught me a lot about boys, my body and myself before any adult did. Then I got into scary short stories which I absolutely loved, to Stephen King novels, which if you look and think hard enough, you'll find philosophical and spiritual themes running through them all. Really! Then there are the weightier books, such as The Secret, written to change the way you think and how to increase your wealth, health and happiness. Biographies and autobiographies like The Long Walk to Freedom and the philosophical, spiritual and political books, which were and are probably the most influential to me.

It probably started as a teenager where I found out about the Jewish Holocaust and found books like The Diary of Anne Frank. Reading it for the first time, I was the same age as Anne was when she and her family were found hiding away in an attic from the Nazis in Holland. It opened up my world to the cruelties of human nature and I was incredibly thankful that I lived in a different time. In High School, I read Malcolm X which I found hilarious for the most part with his religious ideals, which he himself started to see the absurdity of at the end of the book. Currently reading, which I realise is a delayed reaction, since this was the 'in fashion' book about 3 years ago, Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope. I hope this book will inspire me to be more optimistic and patriotic; Mr Obama is as great a writer as he is an orator.

Many books have broadened my mind and influenced me to some extent, but not more so, than a religious, but I don't like using that word, so a spiritual book. The most popular book, The Bible, and other books, such as the Koran and the Torah are books not only held in high esteem but are divine books to the people who use them as the law for their faiths. For me personally, I haven't read much, if any, of the Torah or the Koran, but with The Bible, it is further proof of the power of words. In those pages, it's not just the power from the knowledge and insight the words bring but there is a Spirit behind the words, which make reading it differently from just reading any other book, making it a complete spiritual adventure.

I wonder where my mother heard that phrase, 'Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me…' is it a statement some random person said or did she read it in a book. Those words held true for me until a certain age where I realised, words can actually affect me; not physically as the statement leads to obviously, but emotionally and mentally they can hurt, they can build, they can spur one on and they can deeply wound. Evidence of that is seen in our own lives and those around us. Words, be they in literature or said by someone have immense power. Thank you for letting me share my brief history of books  in my short lifetime with words and phrases that have played a large part in shaping who I am today.

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