Anger is a very misunderstood emotion.
In a political sense, anger is derided as midwife to hatred, violence and social chaos. The mainstream, modern liberal views anger–especially if it manifests itself in anything other than a prescribed, lawful and peaceful protest–as something to be avoided. Witness mainstream media appeals for people to use ‘proper channels’ and ‘rational debate’ as the primary catalysts for social transformation.
My retort to that is, there’s nothing ‘reasonable’ or ‘civilised’ about talking about the lives of the oppressed with contempt, no matter what the tone. No, my life should not be the topic of debate. No, political transformation rarely begins, or even ends, round a debate table. The tactics of the Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela are routinely twisted violently and out of context to this end, without a properly historical appreciation for events as they actually happened. [NB the recent passing of Nelson Mandela is a particularly current example of this, as the mainstream media largely ignored his membership of the South African Communist Party.]
And of course, this constant refrain in the media studiously ignores the massive role of those who thought righteous anger could and should be channeled into forceful confrontation with the powers that be.
On a personal level, anger also finds its uses. It can break a personal path dependency that other emotions simply cannot. Sadness, even shame, rarely force us to stare into the abyss…and pull back. On the contrary, they almost seem to coax us into it; too often, they invite us to swim in the dark waters of regret and fear, offering to drown us sweetly in a sea of shattered emotions. Obviously, sadness–and shame–have pride of place in different aspects of our life. It strikes me as facile and naive (at best) to assume that any of our emotions are value-less or inappropriate at a given time. Sshame, the momentary degradation of our pride, is sometimes necessary and cathartic. But as a proximate catalyst for renewal, shame may do more harm than good.
I don’t want, however, to balance anger against sadness or shame. Those are easy emotions to bat away, especially in a culture that puts huge store in a confused denial of remorse. (To apologise profusely for one’s actions, to be ashamed of what one has done to others, is the last refuge of the scoundrel. Yet, ‘we should all be accepted for who we are, but especially when we’re ass holes,’ seems the dominant sentiment of the day.) I’m setting my sights against those who would chase down a ‘light’, or suddenly come to understand ‘love’, as an entirely selfless endeavour. Not because these aren’t nice views, or even because they can’t temporarily help someone cope with tragedy and loss. But in the long run, light is always coupled to necessary darkness; love with bitterness; and so on. Often, these emotions come together at the same time.
Nothing, in the realm of man, is clear-cut or perfect. We are all a bundle of imperfections, held together by seemingly contradictory emotions. Seeking purity in whatever form is a worthwhile goal, but only if we accept we’ll always fail to attain it.
So there are moments in which anger is good. Where anger–even when it makes the whole world burn, despite ourselves, even when it destroys our perfectly constructed, or perfectly planned view of life–is the only considerable source of necessary change. This is not to say that unbridled angeris always appropriate. Sometimes, it is simply destructive. But sometimes, destruction is all we have left in us. Short of indulging a lethargic stasis, an inability to progress in life at all, bringing in the new via the general destruction of the old might seem the only appropriate choice.
In the last few days, I’ve indulged enough anger to last me a lifetime. I recognise, in retrospect, that this caused much more harm than good. And I’ve harmed some who didn’t deserve it, even if at the time I felt no alternative.
I ought to make it right where I can, though I understand how the opportunity might now be lost to me irrevocably. Nevertheless, what I learned from setting the world alight the last few days is that things must surely change. I’ve been living my life in half-steps–moving forward at a semi-glacial pace, when not just frozen in time–for 22 months. In the one aspect of my life where things seemed to be going positively, I’ve now taken a major step backward. In others, I simply have to muster the energy to move forward.
What I might have lost in the fire, whatever my hopes and desires, might be irretrievable to me now. I hope against hope that this isn’t the case. But I know that in this one part of my life, the decision, the choice is no longer mine to make. I can’t govern others’ emotions. I can only set my stall out and hope they accept me into their life the way I want them too. Here, at least, the initiative is no longer mine. I certainly can’t sit around and hope for the best case to make itself available to me either. Frankly put, I just have to hope that confusion gives way to something more, with enough time and space. I feel I deserve it after struggling for so long. I need a reprieve.
For now, I’m indulging my sadness in one aspect of my life, until it gives way to something better. But the time for sadness in other parts of my life is now over. I’ve dozed long enough.
A pretty, nice Mormon missionary stopped by our house just now. She inquired, as they have tended to do for over 20 years, about my father.
A little known fact about me (or, really, my dad) is that 22 years ago or so, he briefly became a Mormon–and dragged all of us with him. What was most interesting about that episode in our family’s life is the fact that this was an initiative on the part of my father–a lifelong atheist–at the height of what was, presumably, a midlife crisis. (He was in his early 40s then, but what did a child of 7 or 8 know what this meant in the life of a man?)
I was struck by her approach: Had I ever asked my father (she wondered) what had driven that (stupefying, bizarre and) very brief drive towards Mormonism (of all things)? Had I ever asked myself, or him, why he had gone down that particular spiritual journey?
And the answer is, No. I suppose it never struck me before to ask my father, man to a man, why he’d very briefly chosen that path. This, I realised, as the nice Mormon missionary and I chatted away (lump in my throat) was something I’d neglected to ask the most important man in my life, about what was at the time a very important part of his own.
Life changes come in, or come to be understood through, the most curious packages. For a brief moment in time, religion–and Mormonism in particular–instantiated what I take were his fears, vulnerabilities and questions about aging. My father might simply have taken a decision I’d routinely (and out of considerable, childish embarrassment) laughed off, because he had simply reached a fork in his life…and he was looking for a way forward. Only the pettiest among us–or the most immature, as I was–would begrudge him that.
In many ways–though, sans family–I feel at a similar turning point in my own life. To me this afternoon, her question was as much about my own thoughts about where I find myself going now, as it was about where my father chose to go in his two decades prior.
Mind, let me be clear: I’ve no plans to renounce my agnosto-atheist beliefs anytime soon! And I’m certainly not saying I’m becoming a Mormon. But there are some things we should defer to and respect about the lives of others, even if they don’t mesh with our understanding of things…or our hopes and desires for them.
On the flip(pant) side, I now understand how religious evangelism works: Sometimes, people are just a damn touch vulnerable. And these, it seems to me, make the best recruits.
‘Why, look,’ said Neville, ‘at the clock ticking on the mantelpiece? Time passes, yes. And we grow old. But to sit with you, alone with you, here in London, in this firelit room, you there, I here, is all. The world ransacked to its uttermost ends, and all its heights stripped and gathered of their flowers, holds no more. Look at the firelight running up and down the gold thread in the curtain. The fruit it circles droops heavy. It falls on the toe of your boot, it gives your face a red rim–I think it is the firelight and not your face; I think those are books against the wall, and that a curtain, and that perhaps an armchair. But when you come everything changes. The cups and saucers changed when you came in this morning. There can be no doubt, I thought, pushing aside the newspaper, that our mean lives, unsightly as they are, put on splendour and have meaning only under the eyes of love.
‘Now this room seems to me central, something scooped out of the eternal night. Outside lines twist and intersect, but round us, wrapping us about. Here we are centred. Here we can be silent, or speak without raising our voices…It is so vast an alleviation to be able to point for another to look at. And then not to talk. To follow the dark paths of the mind and enter the past, to visit books, to brush aside their branches and break off some fruit. And you take it and marvel, as I take the careless movements of your body and marvel at its ease, its power–how you fling open windows and are dexterous with your hands…
‘Alas! I could not ride about India in a sun helmet and return to a bungalow. I cannot tumble, as you do, like half-naked boys on the deck of a ship, squirting each other with hose-pipes. I want this fire, I want this chair. I want someone to sit beside me after the day’s pursuit and all its anguish, after its listenings, and its waitings, and its suspicions. After quarrelling and reconciliation I need privacy–to be alone with you, to set this hubbub in order. For I am as neat as a cat in my habits. We must oppose the waste and deformity of the world, its crowds eddying round and round disgorged and trampling. One must slip paper-knives, even, exactly through the pages of novels, and tie up packets of letters neatly with green silk, and brush up the cinders with a hearth broom. Everything must be done to rebuke the horror of deformity. Let us read writers of Roman severity and virtue; let us seek perfection through the sand. Yes, but I love to slip the virtue and severity of the noble Romans under the grey light of your eyes, and dancing grasses and summer breezes and the laughter and shouts of boys at play–of naked cabin-boys squirting each other with hosepipes on the decks of ships. Hence I am not a disinterested seeker, like Louis, after perfection through the sand. Colours always stain the page; clouds pass over it. And the poem, I think, is only your voice speaking. Alcibiades, Ajax, Hector and Percival are also you. They loved riding, they risked their lives wantonly, they were not great readers either. But you are not Ajax or Percival. They did not wrinkle their noses and scratch their foreheads with your precise gesture. You are you. That is what consoles me for the lack of many things–I am ugly, I am weak–and the depravity of the world, and the flight of youth and Percival’s death, and bitterness and rancour and envies innumerable.
‘But if one day you do not come after breakfast, if one day I see you in some looking-glass perhaps looking after another, if the telephone buzzes and buzzes in your empty room, I shall then, after unspeakable anguish, I shall then–for there is no end to the folly of the human heart–seek another, find another, you. Meanwhile, let us abolish the ticking of time’s clock with one blow. Come closer.’
– Virginia Woolf, The Waves
Three Rates for the Wall Street-boys under the sky,
Seven for the Bund-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Bear Stearns traders doomed to die,
One for the Lord Mayor on his dark throne
In the Land of Mammon where the Usurers lie.
One Rate to rule them all, One Rate to find them,
One Rate to bring them all and in the darkness bind them
In the Land of Mammon where the Usurers lie.