Is “Innocent” a Four-Letter Word?
We’ve heard them before, those nasty little four-letter words. We heard them in Eminem’s live performance at a recent family-friendly event. We hear them on radio stations, in sitcoms and movies. But as the list of encounters grows longer, sometimes so do the words. I myself have been condescendingly called some pretty harsh things in my life:
People look down their noses when they slip those words in my direction. Regardless of their age or gender. Regardless of the situation. Heck, even regardless of their relationship with me. Those words are intended to be weapons. They’re meant to be insults.
I remember one of my first basketball practices during my freshman year of college. My heart longed to belong with my teammates, but shyness continually wedged itself between them and me. So, I was the quiet kid. The one who laughed at jokes when I overheard them, but wasn’t the one people were telling the jokes to. I was the kid who was warming up before practice, but never had someone to rebound for. I was part of the group, but I wasn’t.
One of the assistant coaches approached me that day as I got my own rebound beneath the bucket. She was short – maybe even shorter than me, if that’s possible – and her hair was even shorter. The toes on her left foot nearly touched the toes on her right as she marched over to me.
“Kelsey, I gotta be honest with you,” she said in her loud, brash way of speaking. “I’m worried about you.”
In my introverted mind, thoughts zoomed around, flashing through my stream of consciousness like a full-speed freight train: She’s worried about me? What did I do wrong? Are my grades okay? Am I understanding the coaches’ strategies? Am I not playing well enough? WHAT HAPPENED?!
Outwardly, I simply stuttered, “M-m-me? Why me?”
As she looked at me, I wondered if those big blue eyes of hers ever blinked. After all, they never seemed to close. Not even for a millisecond. Or her mouth for that matter. And, typically, they were both terrifying.
But she just shrugged and smirked, then lifted her pug nose in the air and said, “You’re too naive. You’re too sheltered. You’re never going to make it in the world.”
I immediately thought about some of the other athletes on campus or in the national news. How their faces and names were forever stained with their unfortunate decisions that went public. How their mistakes and growing criminal records were plastered all over ESPN or our own local newspapers.
Why wasn’t she worrying about them?
Since that day, countless others have scoffed at my innocence. There were whispers that my husband’s and my “inexperience” would jeopardize our marriage and perhaps result in a poor relationship. Or that being “sheltered” would limit my ability to be a productive and contributing member of the world.
Why on earth would be start to believe these things?
It is because of my “innocence” that I can see the world and my surroundings clearly. It is because of my “innocence” that I can walk into the mess and stay true to who I am.
Just because we live in the world, doesn’t mean it has to be our master. It doesn’t have to own us.
Which is why I don’t understand the hilarity of potty-mouthed princesses and pictures of “failing” babies.
Is that really worth it?
But what kind of people would our children become if we taught them to respect innocence, encourage it, and guard their own?
Maybe if we raise our children to become familiar with bombs that begin with Jager and the letter ‘f’, they can grow up to “make it in the world”. Maybe, because of their early “education” to the world, they can become the next huge hero or athletic all-star.
But then again, maybe not.