Rage and Other Virtues

I lived at home in college, and I depended on a very old 3-in-1 printer I had purchased myself at Radio Shack to spit out my carefully crafted essays. Because I commuted to campus, I didn’t like to plan for extra time to make it to an empty lab, scramble to get my thumb drive into an awkwardly placed USB, sign in to the network, and hope that the school’s printer would work okay for me in the two minutes I had left before I got to class. This was too many variables for my anxiety. I needed to leave my house with everything printed, stapled, perfect. So even as the printer gave me a hellish headache almost every other print job, I kept sticking with it. I had precious few resources to get a new one, and I come from stubborn stock that will try to get out every well-earned cent we put into things.

Then came this one night where this raggedy old printer refused to spit out one more job properly. Preposterous to my sense of how recent my youth should still be, this was close to two decades ago so many of the details are lost from my memory. What professor was expecting this essay? I suspect a persnickety one because my desperation still feels palpable. It was late, dark – I was exhausted from writing. And I was on the floor pleading in anxious college-student tears with this big, stupid machine to work just one more time. It refused.

I remember an eerie calm settling over me. What I know, now with some more age in me, having felt it so many more times, is that it was defeated resignation. I started moving as if I were in a dream. I calmly opened the drawer and removed all the remaining paper. I crawled through the tangles of cords under my desk and unplugged it from the surge protector. I disconnected it from the big lumbering tower of my PC. I crouched and lifted safely from my knees. I carried it carefully down the stairs of my parents’ home, through the kitchen into the living room, and placed it gently on my mom’s rocking chair. My parents were in their bedroom to my right, still awake. They would tell me later they were confused as to why I was opening the front door so late, but that they felt a tension in the air that prevented them from asking. I pulled the front door wide, retrieved the printer, used my elbow to unlatch the screen door, stepped onto the cement porch, breathed in, and threw the printer as hard and as violently as I could into the hard surface of the porch. It shattered beautifully, sending plastic shrapnel all over the place. I locked the house back up, climbed the stairs, and went to sleep.

As good as it felt to let that piece of shit (EMPHASIS NEEDED) go, it wasn’t just violent rage that sent me throwing it full force into oblivion. I knew I had to break it beyond repair to let it go. I had to make sure it was never again an option for me. Otherwise, I would have just kept trying to make it work.  

Shortly after I turned 35, an age I had naively assumed would somehow bring a nice balance to my life, because it sits so squarely in the middle of 70 years, I became desperately angry. I would even say dangerously angry. Yet every time I tried to push it somewhere else, I felt my bones anguish. All of my disparate parts sent me a single message, “It will be more dangerous to ignore this.” So, I started giving in to it. I started to feel it.

For months, I lived with it. My husband and I observed how it was this strange entity – I wasn’t acting on it. It was just there, telling the stories:

All the times I had clamped my mouth shut to ensure others would be happy.

All the times I had bit back a tantrum in humiliation because others found my anger hilarious.

All the times I had turned it inward because men angrier than me had told me it was a sin.

All the times I was not allowed to know the truth of things but found out anyway.

It just came back like a furious ghost having found its home inhabited by a precious family, running around as if everything was fine and perfect. The poltergeist of this rage rattled my windows and flashed my lights. The haunting hurt. But realizing that all the ghostly screaming was my hoarse voice finally being heard made all the noise feel holy and necessary.

Like that printer, it felt like I had to break apart to accept that all that I was no longer worked.

The anger did not come unprovoked. A death, some strife, and lots of changes heralded its coming. The long open gaps of time afforded by the pandemic gave it room, as well. If things were different, it is entirely possible I may have gone my entire life without its visit. Maybe it would have made me bitter, maybe it would have killed me. I must have ignored it multiple times before; in fact, I can look back and see the ways it had affected me for years in relationships and in jobs and in my body. It’s not hard for me to imagine where it could have carried me, had I not faced it. I could no longer afford to ignore the bright flashing error messages: this isn’t working.

On the eve of 2020, I chose the words “wild” and “brave” to embody for the year. It was a hilarious miscalculation. By March, we were locked in. The wildest and bravest thing to do became grocery shopping. I had imagined bravely running full force at goals. I had imagined wild like Janis Joplin’s pure vocal abandon. I had imagined brave and wild women through history cheering me on. Instead, I spent the year scared and angry like a child locked in her room.

But somehow, by the time 2021 came – I did feel braver. I did feel wilder. In all the ways I failed to imagine but in the ways I suppose I needed.

In the early days of this anger, I was surprised and ashamed. I tried to pray it away because certainly, I felt, it must be wrong. It went nowhere, and the only answer I could pull from the silences in my prayers was the memory of an especially cheeky singing of “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” from a childhood cassette.

We can’t go over it!

We can’t go under it!

We have to goooo

THROUGH IT!

(Yeah, no scriptures. No peaceful resting. Just the song. I really believe one of the things we failed to keep as we whittled away Norse and Greek and Roman gods is that God is a full. on. trickster.)

More than once, I had to cup my husband’s face in my hands, assure him I wasn’t going to hurt myself, but that I had to get in the car and go through this anger. That I had to go somewhere where he didn’t have to see it, to feel responsible for healing it. This anger was ancient and starving. I had to go uncover it, cry over it, let it stretch its leaves into the fresh air, bloom. I had to coax from it some kind of fruit before the roots, starved for nutrients, kept spreading through me, taking up more and more room.

I walked with it by lakes and in the woods. I drove through affluent neighborhoods with it. I literally once got stuck in a dead end with it. I sometimes found myself sitting on the couch, it cuddled up next to me. It was so excited for the attention. So I talked to it – to myself?

Yes, that was very unfair that happened to you, that you were taught such scary things, that you suffered this thing and that thing, that you couldn’t even react in the ways natural to you because you were lied to. And like a child in tantrum or perhaps even a forgotten ghost, that acknowledgment began to sooth its ferocity. I never lied and said it would be okay. Nothing could be undone. But yes, those things happened, and yes, they were unfair, and yes, none of it was your fault. And everything you felt is exactly true.

Look, I imagine this is what God would say to me about it. And I don’t know if it’s the trickster that unwound this whole ordeal in a way that I had to speak it myself to the memories and emotions that my imagination reanimated into an invisible and crazy being. I don’t know if God heard me speaking the words “brave” and “wild” over myself, and God decided to show me just how brave and wild I could be. I don’t know what confluence of nature or nurture has made me feel every emotion so acutely, but it seems God’s not too concerned with changing it. Because once I turned and started going through it, there was no shame in any of it. I shattered, but I never felt broken. I felt freedom, hard-won.

The older I get, the less I feel certain about the picture of God in my mind, while I become more and more convinced that God is very good. And while anger can quickly seduce any of us into behaviors that cut off the flow of love, feeling anger (or any of our feelings) is part of the whole journey. The more I turn and accept myself and my story, the more sure I am that God accepts us and our stories. 

And when new angers have come in the time since, I try to remember all the openness I fought for. I try to let that openness envelop it rather than hide it away, lest God glower at me over his bifocals. I let the anger grow up, and I talk to it because it’s just a tender offshoot of me, begging for a little bit of my time. Oh, anger, what needs to change? What needs protecting? Let’s be brave together. Let’s be wild.

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