When I was in the 4th grade, my dad and I got in a fight. I don’t even remember what we were arguing over, except that it made me angry enough to cross my arms over my chest and announce that I hated him.
It had the desired effect – he stopped yelling mid-sentence. For a brief moment, I was proud of myself. Then he looked at me. I mean really looked at me. I shrunk under his gaze, expecting him to start yelling again. His eyes weren’t angry, though. Instead they reflected something I had never seen before in my dad’s face, something that looked startlingly like pain. I began to panic. I wanted to apologize, grovel, and do extra chores. I was willing to do whatever it took to make my dad stop looking as if I had shot him in the chest. But before I could do any of those things, he lowered his gaze and quietly sent me to my room. It felt like I was being sent out of his heart.
As I sat on my bed, I wondered why a three word sentence had caused such a reaction. My friends and I tossed the phrase around on the playground all the time, and no one had ever looked as hurt as my dad did when I said it to him.
Less than a month later, two hijacked planes crashed into the Twin Towers. For the next several months, every headline and news story reported death, grief, and destruction. They all said the same thing: the people who had caused so much pain hated America.
That was the first time I had ever seen or heard the word “hate” used to describe something so terrible. At school, cutting in line or winning a game of jump rope was enough to warrant an “I hate you” from another classmate. How could the word I heard every day at school be the same thing that caused the terrorists to kill so many people?
I suddenly learned what hate truly was. Hate was the driving force behind the murders of thousands of innocent people who never got the chance to say goodbye to their loved ones. Hate was what had left the victims’ families shocked and alone. Hate was powerful enough to put an entire nation into mourning. Hate had killed someone’s dad. That was the scariest thing. I knew that I didn’t hold that kind of emotion for anyone, but especially not my dad.
I’m not sure if my dad remembers our fight or what I said to him. I’m too ashamed to bring it up again. But I know I won’t ever forget it. I believe that “hate is a strong word.” I believe that when you tell someone you hate them, you’re allowing more evil into the world. And I believe that once you empty your vocabulary of the word, there is more room to fill it with love.
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