Letter From My 48th Year (Jan 17)
I left the house this morning carrying a small ball of fury (along with a box of decaf Irish Breakfast tea, decaf Starbucks pods for the office Keurig, and a full pint of organic half and half). I was furious both because of a response I’d read to a blog post and because what I really wanted to do, what I needed to do, was write my way through and out of that fury, but there was simply no time in all the rigamarole of heading to work.
I was also furious because I was furious. Anger felt unusually dangerous to me growing up, and I’ve never quite gotten the hang of it. I am scared of disappointing people with my anger. Anger doesn’t please people, and I’m still a (sorta secret but probably not really if you actually pay attention) people pleaser. I don’t quite trust my anger–should I really be mad about X? Anger puts me on shaky ground; I didn’t learn the rules of anger (how to express it, when to express it, what is annoying versus infuriating, etc.), and I always feel unsteady when I’m in a situation when I don’t have a clear understanding of the rules. (I’m fine with being lax on rules, but only if I know what they are to begin with.)
And yes, I realize there aren’t really hard and fast rules to how to be angry, but I do believe there’s anger that’s productive, and anger that’s reductive in that you lose something of yourself by expressing it as opposed to freeing yourself of something by expressing it.
I did eventually go for a walk around lunchtime, out into the cold, three laps around my office building. I marveled at the contrast between the warmth of my feet and the chill behind my knees when the wind picked up. I thought about how I longed to be a woman who went walking in all sorts of weather, a sort of Virginia Woolf striding across the moors (though I prefer to empty myself of stones when I’m walking rather than to gather them up).
As I walked I thought about how my anger arose from another contrast—what people say when they’re trying to be comforting and what is actually comforting. Yesterday was the anniversary of my father’s death and I wrote about how I never felt that my father loved me. Someone responded —and they’re not the first in the few years I’ve been writing about my Dad—that they knew my father loved me and he had a hard time showing it because of his own injured relationship with his father. Which is something I do know about my father, something that breaks my heart for my father, that he could never work his way through his parental wounds the way I’m writing myself through mine.
I also know that the comment was well-meaning, and people are trying to give me a reason for my father’s behavior as a form of comfort. But what would be actually comforting would be for someone to say, “Your father had a hard time expressing his love AND I’m sorry you felt unloved because of that.” Instead the unintended implication is that I’m the bad guy because I’m angry at someone who was in terrible emotional pain himself. Believe me, I don’t feel great about that.
As I type this, this morning’s fury has long dissipated. Hercule Poirot and a Fiona Apple playlist on Spotify will do that for you. But I’m still uncomfortable about writing it out loud. I’m uncomfortable about sharing it publicly. I’m scared of someone being mad at me or thinking that I’m a bad person because of my angers.
But I also know that allowing myself to be angry at my father is the only path to forgiveness. It’s the only path toward my father. Forgiveness is not about forgetting. Forgiveness is about experiencing and expressing anger, it’s about learning who you are in the wake of whatever trespass. Forgiveness is uncomfortable. Forgiveness might even make others uncomfortable. Forgiveness isn’t static; it’s not just a bunch of conciliatory words strung together. It’s a journey. It’s an understanding. It’s an embrace.