When I discovered that my sensitivity to harshly spoken words is not a weakness, a fault, nor a chip on my shoulder, I blossomed like a rose.

Admittedly, I’m a sensitive person.  Some car commercials even make me cry.  Tears flood my eyes when I watch adorable pet videos on You Tube.  A beautifully worded poem will cost my box of tissue about 10 tissues.  When a soulful guitar solo wafts past my ears, the whites of my eyes turn red and I sniffle through the song.  Yes, I’m a sensitive person.

Words can scratch or delight my sensitivity. One day, from out of nowhere, following a plugged garbage disposal, harsh words spat through another person’s lips directly into my face.  It was as if all the garbage this person felt toward me churned through this person’s internal grinder, filled her mouth, then shot at me like the wailing garbage disposal back-spewing the potato peels I sent its way just moments earlier.

“I told you not to put those peels in there!” she fumed.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you say that, or I would have sent them to the trash bin,” I returned.

“Of course you didn’t hear me! You were talking and not listening,” shot the second accusation.

“Yes, we were talking about the news while I peeled the potatoes.  Anyway, I’m sorry if I didn’t hear you. Let me see what I can do to fix it,” I suggested. I restrained my swelling anger. She never told me that this garbage disposal was useless.

“Just get out of my way. You can’t fix it. I’m going to have to call a plumber now,” she growled. Her face contorted in rage, she turned to me and said, “Charmaine, someday you might just learn to listen.”

Frankly, this insulted me not by the accusation but by the tone of voice which was meant to be demeaning—as if I were some sort of idiot.  Never mind that I was preparing a meal for this person who was somewhat incapacitated and rarely had home cooked feasts—especially near the holidays.  It also hurt my feelings.  My sensitive side took offense.  I shot back, “I’m sorry. Maybe I should cook from cans more often.”

This aggravated the scene of pissed-over-plugged-garbage-disposal.

My accuser tossed another nasty comment at me. That was it! I excused myself mumbling, “I’m outta here.”  I didn’t want to fight over something that seemed silly–like a plugged garbage disposal.  Cliches aside, there are bigger fish to fry in this world. And I’m always messing up things in the kitchen. Cooking from scratch is an assumed job hazard.

I went to my car and prepared it to take me far, far away from this ugly.  But as I calmed down, I decided to apologize and explain why I shot back at this person who was clearly angry as hell with me.

“I just want to offer you my apologies for snapping back at you. It was inappropriate,” I began.

“If you would shut up once in a while and would have listened to me, I wouldn’t have a plugged sink,” sneered this person wearing a now-twisted and red face.

My thought was to explain why I took offense. So I said that I’m sensitive to other people’s words and that I have been all of my life for a variety of reasons—mostly from many, many years of verbal abuse I received as a child.

“I don’t want to hear your sob story. Gee, you’re sensitive, so what?  It’s time you learn to shut up, grow up, and listen to others once in a while.”

We call this hitting a brick wall, I believe.  Well, I didn’t shut up.  I kept trying to explain myself until I hit the bricks in this metaphorical wall that towered over my head.  I already had one black eye from tripping in my garden a few days earlier, and I surely did not want another one from pounding my head against the clay and concrete barricade. My final words were, “The potatoes will be done in about 15 minutes, the meat has about another 45 minutes, the cranberries are in your refrigerator. Have a nice meal.”  And off I drove into the night.  Not a tear fell.  I freed myself from being told to shut up and ridiculed for my sensitivity.

I  love my sensitivity.  It is one element that fuels my inner artist.  Without it I fear I’d lack passion, imagination,  compassion, insight, and the soul it takes to craft words, music, food, and family.  My sensitivity helped me create my masterpiece—my two daughters.  So no apologies for my easily bruised thin-skin.

It took several brick wall collisions, a half-dozen face in the gutter plants, a childhood year of pulling out all of my eyelashes, losing the ability to digest food for a while, and a bout with breast cancer for me to accept that this receptive side of me is a good thing. My sensitivity is so good that I had to learn how to embrace it and call it my own.

While driving through the night I thought of the people I know—about 80% are artists of one fashion or the other.  Some are near-famous and others keep their equally remarkable talents at home.  I know they are sensitive—it’s why they create.  Their passion burns as does mine.  And that is not a weakness, a fault nor a chip on one’s shoulder. 

Embrace your sensitivity. It’s a blessing.