December 6. “Anger is the wind that blows out the lamp of the mind.” (Robert G. Ingersoll)
There are some quotes in this book that smack me right in the middle of the forehead. This is one of those quotes. It smacks me because it is so true, and so evident in my own life.
When I am angry I cannot think straight. Note that I didn’t say “I don’t think straight”, I said I CANNOT. When the hairs on the back of my neck are raised, when the red is in my face, when the adrenalin is pumping, and the palms of my hands are sweaty, I cannot think. The ability is simply, just gone. I can act, and I do so with scary and ruthless efficiency.
When I am at my most angry, I am also my most cunning. I can find the exact phrase or sentence to cut someone to the quick. I can take the actions that cause the most damage to myself and others. I become stubborn, and non-communicative. No reason can push through the thick wall that goes up so quickly.
Not every time that I get angry do I get to that extreme. Really, what I am describing above is more pure rage, and it has happened a sad handful of times in my life. Even when my anger is more low key, the ability to think still leaves me.
Last weekend we decided to decorate our house for Christmas. My son will be coming home soon, and my wife was going to be away for a while, so the timing was right. The plan was to spend Sunday pulling out all the decorations, and putting up the Christmas tree and all the other fun things around the house. In the week before Thanksgiving I had put up our outside decorations, so those were pretty well set. What remained was the daunting task of decorating the inside of the house.
We started the day with going to breakfast with our daughter. She was excited to decorate with us. The breakfast was fun and full of anticipation. We got home and were heading inside and my wife noticed that a plaque that commemorates my late bother was laying on its side in the front landscaping. I had laid it down to make room for one of the decorations, and was careful to make sure nothing happened to it.
We went inside and suddenly things took a turn. I quickly became combative. There was an edge to my voice, and I was clearly very angry. My wife wanted to know why, and I couldn’t say, because I didn’t know. I angrily told her that we just needed to get on with it and decorate already. The next hour or so of the time was tense. She felt like she was walking on egg shells. Things were getting done but I wasn’t a fully engaged participant. Over time the anger subsided, and rational thought returned to my head.
I started the process of trying to figure out what the heck had happened. I was actually stumped for quite some time. Finally I figured it out.
There are legendary stories of the struggles my mom and I had decorating our house for Christmas. It was always a stressful day. We usually set aside a Sunday after Thanksgiving. The process involved a lot of trips up to the attic of our colonial, then all the way back downstairs to set things up. When we were done, the house looked great. Mostly we enjoyed the time, but it wasn’t without the hiccups as well.
What I didn’t realize was that I was missing my mom a lot on that day. She passed two and a half years ago. While I have mostly processed my grief, clearly there were a few cobwebs still hanging around. When my wife mentioned the plaque laying on its side, I had an angry reaction. That anger did, indeed, blow out the lamp in my mind. It stopped me from being able to think about what I was feeling, and that anger just took over.
This wasn’t an all out rage event, and I was able to stop myself from completely destroying the day. But there was still tension.
Anger is toxic. It stops so any good processes in my system. It doesn’t really serve productive purposes in my life, it just seems to undermine what I am truly about. I don’t know that I will ever be able to eliminate anger from my life. I think the best I can hope for is that I find a way to manage it and minimize the effects.
I am fine now from that experience last Sunday. My wife and I talked about it some later in the day, as I was apologizing for my anger. It is sad to me that something as healthy as grief, and something as sweet as the memories of decorating were tainted by the anger. It just reminds me that there is still so much to work on.