Thursday, October 14, 2010

Looking Toward the Past

Recently, I have found myself being consumed by anger. Why am I angry? That is what I am attempting to sort through. I was raised to believe that if you work hard for tomorrow, you will be rewarded. I know now, that I perverted that notion into believing perfection was the reward. I have vigorously applied this ideology in my life, and thought that by reading everything I can get my hands on, educating myself to understand our world, and by working hard; that perfection was possible. But the truth is: life is brutal and the moments of pure joy and so called perfection are fleeting. Anger comes from craving that pure joy all the time, but it is not possible. Perhaps D.H. Lawrence understood this feeling as well when he said, "You'll never succeed in idealizing hard work. Before you can dig mother earth you've got to take off your ideal jacket. The harder a man works, at brute labor, the thinner becomes his idealism, the darker his mind". Letting go of idealism is part of growing up, and as much as I know I am a grown up, I am still growing.

Wanting to let go of my anger has led me on a journey to let go of the past. Not because my past is horrible, but because it was so good. I was raised in a family with it's fair share of troubles and hurtles. I have always thought of the hurtles as a challenge to discover the beauty in life. All I have been remembering was the hard work, and the imperfect vision of perfection.

That leads me to where I am now, when life has become unfair. More and more frequently, as I grow older, pessimism and anger have found a way into my world. Lost is the: work hard and you will be rewarded. Found is the: work hard and you might get sour cherries. I can think of several examples where working hard has not delivered happiness: my best friend who overcame many childhood hardships only to discover she has stage 4 cancer, my brother in law who lost his daughter, my friend who lost her husband to melanoma and her young children who lost their father, and my grandparents who worked hard for so long, only to end their lives in a demented state with 24 hour care givers. Honestly, this is an abbreviated list of the hardships I have witnessed lately. All of this brutality has lead me to anger, and now I am on a journey to find the answers of how to let go of the anger.

I found this parable in my readings and wanted to share it with you:

Once upon a time there was a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he should hammer a nail in the fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. But gradually, the number of daily nails dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.
Finally the first day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all. He proudly told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.
"You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out, it won't matter how many times you say 'I'm sorry', the wound is still there."

Just like the little boy, except for the fact that I am a grown woman, I am seeing what anger can cause. It is only making the path that I walk on more difficult to traverse. Life will never be the one I envisioned as a child, it can be more exhausting and cruel than any fairy tale I ever read. Not only is life unpredictable and unfair, it never ends like a fairy tale. But I now understand this: happiness is found in the soul, in the quiet peacefulness of forgiveness. Every 24 hours is new and every 24 hours is not a given. One morning, those 24 hours will be gone, and all that will be left of my life is the memory others hold of me in their minds. I want those memories to be filled with inspiration and hope, so I am going to let go of my anger.


  1. Your post made me think of a few lines from a Don Henley song: "I think it's about forgiveness. Even if you don't love me anymore," and "There are people in your life who have come and gone. They let you down. They hurt your pride. You better put it all behind you because life goes on. If you keep carrying all that anger, it will eat you up inside."

    I have been angry at and not forgiven people a number of times. I try to remind myself (and fail sometimes) that we can't control others, only ourselves. And, of course, life is not fair.

    Good luck. Great post.

  2. The story about the nails gave me the shivers . . .
    I feel like I have yet to go through a time in my life when hard work hasn't paid off in happiness, but I know it's ahead. Eventually, my family members will die, including my parents. Both my sisters are married to army men who are being deployed next year to areas of great risk. We all plan on having children, and may experience miscarriages, infertility, etc. I feel like there are untold challenges ahead, and the "hard" part of life for me is momentarily paused . . . but eventually someone will come along and press 'play.' However, I'm also trying to enjoy the happy period without letting it be marred by worry or dread.
    I'm glad you shared . . . I need all the life wisdom I can get!

  3. I can relate to this, as a fellow grappler with anger. Generally I'm pretty laid-back, but when I would get mad, watch out. And don't even talk to me about holding grudges. In either case, I knew that these negative emotions weren't good for me, mentally, emotionally, maybe even physically. There is a book which I found helpful - Anger: The Inner Teacher, by Zelig Pliskin.

    Good luck letting go.

  4. Negative emotions are so tricky - as are positive emotions. Just as there isn't a single "state" of happiness (we have happy, peaceful, content, joyful, jubilant, delighted, and so on) - there isn't a single "anger" either.

    Reading what you've been going through, I hear disappointment, sadness, reluctance, bitterness (for others), even bafflement. And personally, I place no judgment on any of those emotions. (Why do we judge emotions anyway? We feel what we feel, and usually for good reason.)

    It seems to me that all those emotions make a lot of sense as you process the realities you are facing which are part of growing up, yes, and also, growing older. The world broadens, and our understanding of it does as well. Including the fact that "life isn't fair" and unfortunately, many of us were raised with the American work ethic, and notions of fairness that don't jive with the random nature of illness, accident, and the actions of others.

    Where does that leave you? Or me, for that matter? Or anyone who has to let go of (some) idealism, in order to also let go of (some) bitterness? (And I find bitterness to be quite normal.)

    Negative emotions are real and justified and I think, healthy. My belief is it's what we do with them, learning to express them in non-scarring ways (to ourselves or others), and then keep going.

    We don't necessarily leave them behind forever, but we may be able to shed the depth of the sting, if that makes any sense.

    I have a different approach, Joely. I say embrace your anger (disappointment, sorrow, frustration, etc.). You have every right to it. Write it out, talk it out, stare it down and feel all of it in context. Writing here is a wonderful way to do that.

    How could you not be angry (shaken, saddened) with what you've witnessed?

    And then slowly, you take the lessons those emotions offer. The contrast of your healthy family, your children, the good fortune of small moments.

    I don't think there's anything wrong with idealism or optimism. Only with assuming that there is a path to it, and then you're there. For me, it isn't a question of "the journey" or "the destination."

    Personally I think the journey is the destination.
    (Sorry to run on...)

  5. Facie,
    That song was in my head all day long after I read your comment. I was very young when that song came out and I never paid any attention to that lyric. Thanks

  6. Jenna,
    Thanks for considering my words wisdom. I am just going through life and trying to figure it out. I want to be honest and by doing that hopefully people will see that a picture is not always perfect.

  7. Rivki,
    I think my biggest concern with anger is the hole is the fence that my anger has caused: the words I may have said. I don't want my anger to define my relationships but to only be a brief moment of my relationships that do not leave scars.

  8. BLW,
    I truly appreciate your words and how you did not skim my blog but absorbed it and me. You said this, "We don't necessarily leave them behind forever, but we may be able to shed the depth of the sting, if that makes any sense", well that makes perfect sense to me. I do not want to leave any stinger in anyone or myself for that matter, and have to pull them out later only to find a big gaping hole that I can never refill.

  9. OK - so you've seen my ramble :-), but I just wanted to say.... I agree with above - your journey shapes you - good or bad.....

  10. That parable made me think, and made me feel sad. I've spent SO much time this past year feeling angry, and God, it's draining. It sucks all of the energy right out of me.

    My fence has many holes, but it's not from the things I've said. It's the things I haven't said and left to fester inside. But holes are holes, right?

    Hope things smooth out for you--that's a lot of loss to handle.

  11. TKW,
    When I read this parable, like you, I began to understand the impact of anger on others. And it is draining, but adding to it 3 kids, cooking, cleaning, being a wife, being a daughter and sister: I find myself drained as you. I am upbeat but this shit(lack of a better word) is hard to come to grips with.

  12. Wow. So much here. So much you're going through. So much you're thinking about. So much to be feeling in such a tiny space of time.

    I'm going to hurt people in my life. I'm going to leave holes in other people's fences. This is the reality of my life. This is because I am very human. So...what do I do with this?


    I let myself be sad. And I peek through those holes into the soul of the garden I've penetrated. Sometimes I think the way I hurt people is a chance to see into them and see into me...if I'm willing to look.

    Often I want to look away.

    You've had so much pain lately. It must be so exhausting. I hope you are soothing yourself with abundant nurturance and life affirming activities. Like sitting. Or running. Or holding stones in your pocket.

    I underestimate the power of rest. Rest is so healing. My temper flares less when I've rested and eaten well. But when there is deep tragedy eating and sleeping are difficult things to do. So they need more of my focus.

    Joely, I'm so glad you are with us and talking. You remind me to breathe.

  13. I don't know how I missed this, Joely, but I'm glad I'm here now. I can relate to the anger and the fact that when too many injustices pile up, when we find ourselves at too many funerals, too many cancer bedsides, or just sitting beside those grandparents who now aren't even there, it can be too much.

    I know you're a person of faith and as one myself I can tell you how I've dealt with it, especially when I got diagnosed with my brain tumor 9 years ago. I realized that the way things look from here - the horribleness and finality of death - might look very different from God's side of the fence. It might be a scene of indescribable beauty.

    There's so much I can't know, so much I have to live with not knowing. Sometimes I think that the greatest lesson we have to learn in our lives is how to live with that.

  14. Linda,
    How strange it is to find your comment right now. I have just left my gradfathers death bed and watched them take him away and I have so many tears right now and finding your words is a beautiful thing right now. Thank you.

  15. What a great post. Thank you, too, for your post on my blog a few months ago about my journey having more rocks than I'm used to right now. Your comment really resonated with me. Things are getting better.

    So true what you say about anger. I have become more patient with time, and I try to be more compassionate towards other. Afterall, we all have bad days.

  16. I am so sorry, Joely. I have been thinking of you often and wondering....Now I know. I am wrapping you up with a big hug of PEACE! love you,

    Kim Stelmach