Why 'Shit' Isn't a Swear
And other life lessons I learned from my mother.
To preface: About a month or so ago, two inspiring ladies in my life — hello Devin Bramhall and Arestia Rosenberg — hosted an event for MassMouth, an amazing organization whose mission is to promote the art of storytelling. The theme of the event was “Naked” and, at the time, I had considered speaking, but the words couldn’t materialize on my computer screen fast enough. (When you’re writing roughly 15 to 20 other stories a week, any recreational tales tend to go unpenned.)
But with a new chapter on the horizon, and me missing the woman I wish I could be sharing this chapter with, I decided to finish the short story I had started in January.
Warning: If you think the word “shit” is a profanity, you should probably stop reading this now.
At least once a day, my mother could be found meandering around our house naked.
She was the same mother who, at the age of 10, assured me “shit” was not a swear, which I, of course, took full advantage of as we sped down Route 1 on our way home from Boothbay Harbor, Maine. I called every three cars we passed that day “a piece of shit” — BMWs included. It was just something about that mild profanity that made me feel mature, despite how immaturely I used it. Looking back on it, however, it could just be that “shit” summarized my life.
In the best way possible.
My mother perfected that “don’t give a shit” attitude we have all wished to possess at one point in our lives — say, on the third day of our roommate’s dirty socks being three feet from the hamper, rather than just in the hamper where they belong. Me, I would want to send a passive aggressive text to my roommate. My mother, she would just say, “Pick up your damn dirty socks.”
It is because she had that “don’t give a shit attitude” she could walk around our house naked. Or, unintentionally, her brother’s house naked, after she told him to close the cellar door so her daughter would not fall down the stairs, he did not and — you guessed it — her toddler went tumbling. My uncle is still scarred, not from being verbally assaulted by his younger sister, but from seeing her triple Ds as she sprang from the bathroom to rescue a shrieking three year old. (Don’t worry, my sister is a tough cookie. She is fine, as is my uncle.)
When you are diagnosed with breast cancer, it is hard to really give a shit about anything — particularly when you have been told you only have a year left to live. It is even harder after you have lived well beyond that year by an additional eight. At that point, you know life’s little annoyances pale in comparison to chemotherapy, the subsequent hair loss and the potential loss your family could face if the battle becomes bigger than you are.
What’s losing a job when you have been fighting for nearly a decade not to lose your life?
So, in some strange way, “shit” evolved into a word I learned to identify with.
"Shit, my mother is strong."
"Why do we, of all families, have to deal with this shit?"
"Shit, how is my mother still smiling?"
"I don’t really give a shit if you don’t like what I have to say."
"Life is too short to deal with someone else’s shit."
The last quote is what I muttered to myself in a cab after leaving a date within 20 minutes of walking into it. When you have been broken up with by a guy who has minimal motivation and, one year later, find yourself sitting next to a grown man who cannot open his eyes to the opportunities in front of him, you learn to run — and fast. Life is too short to let anyone else slow you down.
Although my mother had been dealt one of the shittiest hands in the deck, she played life’s game with a brazenness her peers could not help but admire. Her gumption allowed her to not take her doctor’s “one year” as an option. For the years to come, she tirelessly fought to make sure she was on the dance floor, camcorder ready, at my sister’s senior prom, or whooping it up, front row, at my dance recital.
You could say she did not give a shit about embarrassing us either.
Looking back on it, I think I can speak for the both of us when I say we are glad she didn't. Because, those moments that, in our youth, seemed mortifying are now what we laugh about together, nearly 13 years after her passing, over bottles of red wine — smiles on our faces, fond memories in our hearts.
“Shit” has come to summarize my life, and in the best way possible, because I have learned how to use it to my benefit. You cannot control a lot of the shit that creeps into your life, but you can control how you react to it, whether that’s blissfully walking around the house naked or walking out of a date you know is only a waste of time.
I think my mother told me “shit” is not a swear, because it is a part of life — a part you cannot avoid, but does put what matters into perspective. Once you know what you’re fighting for, you don’t need to give a shit about much else.