Folks, in our ongoing series on anger I’m privileged to bring you a post today from Shawn Smucker. In his own words:
Shawn is the author of Building a Life Out of Words, the story of how he lost his business, his house and his community, then found happiness making a living as a writer. He lives deep in the woods of southern Lancaster County, PA, with his wife and four children. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter.
My Anger is a Goldfish
My anger is like seeing an old friend from high school at one of the harvest fairs we have here in the fall, a friend with whom I had many good times doing things that are now embarrassing to recollect. When I first see that old friend, I smile and think about saying hello. But then I remember everything we did and I realize it would be awkward. We terrorized the community back in our day, stole road signs and drove like maniacs.
Things are different now. I am different.
Not knowing how to deal with such a friend, I duck my head and walk around to the back side of the tent where people are throwing ping-pong balls at fish bowls. Children walk by holding goldfishes-in-water by the crinkled necks of clear plastic bags, and I wonder how many hours or at most days those fish have left. And my old friend wanders by, chatting with someone I do not know, and I sigh.
So it is with my anger, this old friend who I cannot communicate with. This old friend who startles me with his sudden appearance. This old friend who causes me to hide in obscure alleyways and watch the random bouncing of ping-pong balls as they dance over the heads of goldfish praying, “Not me!”
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According to Annie Dillard, Rabbi Isaac Luria “repudiated both anger and sorrow, for to him anger, especially, was the proximate source of all evil.” This is a foreign thought to us today, when we are encouraged to embrace our feelings.
Feelings cannot be judged as good or bad, we are told by everyone. Feelings simply are.
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When I was a boy, I was taught in no uncertain terms that anger was bad. In the Amish culture, that murky, beautiful people from whom my grandparents emerged not unscathed, stoicism and emotional control are valued above all else. I have seen many Amish men venture towards anger, but they veer away from it by laughing forcefully, or scoffing. Ridiculing something is preferable to being angry with it.
Then I read somewhere that anger is simply the result of a blocked goal. I want something. I am blocked from attaining it. I am angry.
And so when I feel that dragon’s egg beginning to tremble, when I feel anger beginning to hatch, I search for what it is that I am being held from.
The constant activity of the children, when they are supposed to be in bed, is keeping me from a tranquil evening.
The person driving the car that cut me off is keeping me from feeling that I am an autonomous human being that owns the roads.
The person on the internet that disagrees with me is keeping me from feeling safe and secure in the little castle of beliefs that I have constructed, that help me make sense of an upside-down world.
But instead of addressing my old friend Anger, I scurry off to the side and simply wait for him to pass me by. I prefer avoidance, for now.
Then I realize that my anger is not my old friend from high school. My anger is a goldfish, because I believe that my anger can be submerged in the water of some other emotion and carried away, so long as I cling to the crinkled neck of the clear plastic bag that holds it.
For some reason, though, this particular goldfish never seems to die.