On Anger

Because of the way my husband left us, I have plenty of reasons to be angry–at him, at his illness, at the mess (physical, emotional, financial, social–you name it, it’s all a mess) we were left with, at people who abandoned us, people who talk about us more than they talk to us, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. There’s so much anger that it can easily become bitterness.

I began to move away from the bitterness when I felt bitter about people who haven’t been coming around when I needed them. One day I knew that I didn’t really need them, after all. No matter how many people came to my aid, they wouldn’t fill the hole in my heart. Nothing could fill that hole in my heart. I was misdirecting my anger to easy targets. Once I let go of that misguided anger, I felt much more at peace. I stopped being disappointed by unreliable or unwilling people. I was moved to tears by the people who did stick with me, because every effort is a gift, freely given and so appreciated. While the hole is still there, my heart has expanded to receive generosity that is genuinely given. I’ll take what I can get, and I cherish it. I moved from bitterness to a quiet liberation and an appreciation for what we have, rather than what we lack.

And then there was the cabinet. When the kids and I tackled the basement last week, there was an old kitchen cabinet on the basement wall, just below the ceiling. I assumed it was screwed into the wall. But when I took down a pile of boxes underneath it, the cabinet came crashing down behind me. Ends up, it was just resting on the boxes beneath it. It landed right where my daughter had been standing. Luckily, she jumped out of the way. Luckily, the kid’s got quick reflexes. Where she’d been standing were sharp router blades, shattered lightbulbs, and other detritus.

A few steps (or, rather, leaps) away, she stood unscathed. She was visibly shaken, though. So was I.  A few months ago, I would have shaken my fists at the heavens, at my absent husband, at any inanimate object, just to vent my anger, an anger that we were placed in harm’s way, an anger that was, of course, rooted in fear.

When we stood staring at that fallen cabinet, however, I knew that anger would serve no purpose. Sure, it sucked that the cabinet wasn’t screwed into the wall. It was startling that it came crashing down onto the floor. But no one got hurt. No one was maimed. We averted a crisis. All that was left was for me to sweep it up, and never again would a cabinet full of sharp objects teeter atop a pile of boxes in this house, not on my watch. There was nothing to be angry about, though, no object to direct any anger toward. There was no sense in dwelling on a past that brought us to that moment. We needed to live in the moment, which consisted of no one hurt and a need to deal with the shattered contents of that cabinet. I needed to clean up the sharp bits, and I needed to reassure my daughter. I needed to act. Anger was not a productive emotion in this case.

My therapist suggests that this displays wisdom. That’s charitable of her. I think I’m just resigned to this sort of thing. Of course a cabinet of sharp objects came flying off the wall. There’s no hoping for cabinets that don’t fly off the wall in this house, in this family, in this life. There’s just relief that no one got hurt. And forget about striving for joy, or aspiring to a better life, not when cabinets full of sharp objects fall in our path. These days, I’m grateful for days when we don’t suffer too much. This feels more like resignation, not wisdom.

But, still, resigned as I am, it seems good that I’m moving past anger. I still feel the anger sometimes. And when I do, it’s an emotion, and sometimes it’s an appropriate feeling. I feel it, and I move on. It’s not a source of energy, though, and it’s not a way of life. *sigh* That’s progress.


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