Three months ago, someone asked me,
“Are you still angry with me?”
I had to think but a few seconds before I shook my head. It was a good thing that the question included the last two words. After all, this was a day after the worst birthday of my life, ruined by someone I thought once loved me. I was hot on the heels of the humiliation, angst, frustration and pain of break-up and the disenchantment with marriage and home. Anger, oh yes, there was plenty of it.
In comparison though, the anger I had once felt and expressed to the person standing in front of me, that felt like nothing. In those seconds while a pair of eyes searched me, I looked within myself and found that that specific shard of anger had vanished. Maybe it just got lost in time. Maybe it diminished so much in comparison, that it pretty much vanished. What is the moral of that, then? To get over anger, become angrier? Huh.
Last month, I came across another very angry person. He was a barely restrained bundle of unbridled, uncontrolled, raging anger. I got a tongue-lashing, some sniping and a cold shoulder. What it left me with, was a strange realization. So this is what it looks like from the outside.
It’s so self-destructive.
I caught something in a fraction of a second, in the middle of his dramatic outburst. Something that stayed with me and led me to a place of quiet reflection, instead of responsive anger. In that brief millisecond, I realized, he was in the throes of anger, a helpless, hapless victim and overwhelmed by it. So poisonous, it was scary to watch. What must it feel like from within? Don’t I know? I’ve lived with it all my life. This isn’t what I want my life to look like, from within or without.
It hasn’t been easy. When you live in an overcrowded city, fueled by need and greed, then anger is the only constant friend you have. The car driver that cuts you, the woman who elbows you to grab your seat, the bus driver that lechs and tries to bully you while you’re crossing, the rain that starts just when you’ve left home, the water supply in the toilets that fails, the harsh cruel laughter of strange men on the road when they watch you trudge by, miserable….how can one be anything but angry?
The last one made me snap. It was humiliating, it was uncalled for and it was a big heaping of shit on top of a garbage-filled day. Hot-faced, standing in the rain, I fumbled for my phone and typed out an angry message of hatred, raging venom into the universe. But I stopped before I hit ‘Send’. And I deleted the curse I’d tacked to the end of my tweet-rant and changed it into something funny. Did I swallow my rage? Or did I turn it into something positive?
I want to think it was the second. The cruel, demeaning laughter that I hear so much around me, that makes me want to cry, a response I won’t permit myself in public so I turn it into anger – that’s a lie. Sneering, condescension, sarcasm, cliquish sentiments, I’m calling the bluff on all of these. The kind of laughter that makes the listener want to cry isn’t laughter at all; it’s tears trying desperately to sound like something else. Real laughter is infectious, not repellent. And if you’re not laughing too, there is a very sad person at the end of that so-called laugh. That just makes it easier, so much easier not to be angry. How can you be angry with someone who is so sad they’ve lost the ability to laugh?
If I can turn the fake laughter that’s really tears, into real laughter, I’m making my life a significantly better place in that minute. It may not always be possible. I’m still quick to anger in most situations. That’s a habit of too many years, a war I’ve waged and lost way too many times to win a Pyrrhic victory now. But I hold fast to that insight – the memory of that angry young man with his loud bluster and the despair in his eyes. When I’m able to summon that image, I find I’m not so angry anymore.