What are you really angry about?

Today I feel consumed by anger. If you bumped into me on the street and we chatted, you wouldn't know. If you knew me well, you might clue in that something was a bit off. Of course if you have been around me much in the last three years you might not think anything was off at all.

I'm not "mad" right now. I do get mad. When I do I'm often just letting out my anger. I get mad at my kids. Sometimes I get mad at Susan. I get mad at the dog. I get mad at idiot drivers. No. As I write this now I'm not mad. I'm angry. And angry is something much deeper and more insidious. Mad is an outburst. Angry is an emotional state I can't shake.

If I can't shake this anger, why write about it now? Saturday will mark the third anniversary of Nathan's diagnosis. April fools! That is why. I see that date coming on the calendar. It isn't circled in red. I don't have a reminder set on that date in Outlook. It might as well be and I might as well have. It just pops. And each time it pops I chase the same train of thoughts and emotions. It goes something like this...I should be happy. I should be able to celebrate it. After all, three years is a long time for this diagnosis. After all, the 5 year mortality rate is approximately 30%. This is where things start to turn in this chain of thought. Three years? That is kind of pushing five years. The chances of making five years are bad.

Then I do the fucking math (it isn't hard). The math I'm doing doesn't logically apply to Nathan, but I still do the math. I get mad when I chase these thoughts around and my anger gets fueled.

I could go on and on about what I get mad about. I could give you a laundry list of the things that spark my anger. That is what it is like too. It is very much like static electricity. I walk around all day and my anger kicks around building up energy and it has to find that point where it can jump to something else.

I spark and get mad, but what am I really angry about? Is it obvious? The cause is clearly obvious, but I'm not angry that Nathan is sick. I'm angry that life is what it is, and that seems to be a hard thing to get over. At least for me. Susan and I were living outside of the reality of life. We met young. We were happy. We picked a place to live that we liked a lot. We had good jobs and made good money. We bought a house. We got a dog. We started a family. I wouldn't have thought I was naive. I knew that the nature of life was messy, but I guess I didn't expect it to be messy for me. April Fools Day came and it wasn't funny. And all of a sudden life was what it is, messy and hard and a struggle every day. So if I had to boil it all down, I'm angry because my life doesn't match up with some ideal or expectation of life that I didn't even really acknowledge that I had. I'm angry that the reality of my life doesn't match the fantasy that I was living out and expecting to continue.

Now I could be delusional in my little pop-self-psychology analysis here. I think I'm at least on the right track. And I'm so damn mad at myself for being able to recognize at least some of the reality of it all but still unable to deal with it as well as I would like and feel that I should.

Life is messy. Get over it. Give up the fantasy. Embrace the beautiful parts of reality. Love is real and beautiful. Love cannot be fantasy. Accept the love. And give it back. Revel in it.


shadowfax said...

I knew that the nature of life was messy, but I guess I didn't expect it to be messy for me. April Fools Day came and it wasn't funny.

I'm always amazed not just that you are able to cope with things, but how stunningly well you (and susan) cope. Reading these posts impresses me even more with your self-insight and ability to cogently express some very difficult thoughts and feelings.

I would be lying if I said I hadn't wondered how I would do if our positions were reversed. Can't know, really, so it's a pointless exercise. But I have enough self-insight to suspect that I might not do as well.

I've seen enough bad things in my work to know a little of the anger you are talking about. Not so personally, of course, but for sure the same thing. I'm glad you're able to recognize it and sublimate it, at least a little bit.

Josh Gentry said...

I'm not being evangelistic here, I hope, but I'll share what I have found to be helpful. Not that I'm that good at it. I have the usual caveat of not having nearly as much to cope with as you, but part of what your post is about is that life is hard and messy for everyone, cause that's what life is.

What you have come to on your own and described in this post are the first 2 of what Buddhist's refer to as the 4 Noble Truths.

# The Reality of Suffering--dukkha
# The Cause of Suffering--samudaya
# The Cessation of Suffering--nirodha
# The Path to the Cessation of Suffering--magga

The first truth is the reality of suffering. I guess that's the part about not being naive. The second truth is the insight that we suffer because we want life to be what it is not. There is an analogy from the Buddha that says its like being upset that a mango tree does not produce bannanas.

I find those 2 truths to be profound. The second two truths are about applying knowledge of the first 2 to life. That's hard. I have tried various things, like reading the 4 Noble Truths every morning while drinking coffee. Right now, Jae and I try to read from a Buddhist author we like every morning while driving to work. It helps a little.

Cool Hand Luke said...

shadowfax, I think we have coped and dealt just fine. I also think that it is time to shake the monkey of dealing off my back. There isn't anything to deal with. This is it. This is life. Right at this moment, in terms of Nathan's health which is in large part the reason for my strife, things could not be better. Sure, he could not be "NED", he could be cured, but then I'm right back to fantasy. I have to stop dealing and start living.

Josh, not too evangalestic. So I've discovered the first two truths without ever having studied or learned a bit about Buhdism, huh? Perhaps I can forge my own path to enlightenment.

jim barton said...

From a message to me titled Interloper that you sent on Jan 11, 2005:

So we have started attending church. . . . I am not a believer. If pressed I would probably give very wishy-washy answers. . . .
Right now I feel like a trespasser in these situations.

This post is in my inbox along with only 33 other posts. It, like your post today, presents a profound and challenging spiritual question. But that isn't why I've kept it for so long and failed several times to craft answer. It is because it touches me in an intimate way.

While attending Northwestern I went to mass with Pat. I knew that I was not supposed to take communion, but I did anyway. I needed it. At the same time, it was very good for the son of a preacher, the ultimate insider, to feel like an interloper. Not the honored guest at God's feast, but the beggar who deserves the scraps because he needs them to survive.

On September 11th I was in Up State New York and drove to several places trying to find a place to donate blood, but they had closed by the time I got there. I saw a bunch of cars at a church and I went inside. It wasn't a blood donation, it was a mass and they were having communion. So I took the body and blood with my Catholic brothers and sisters, still remembering the words from the Newman Center. Then I found the Red Cross place in Syracuse and was able to give my blood back.

This is pretty much stream of conciousness, and I'm sorry. But I guess I'm saying: I understand that you are suffering deeply, and that it really frustrates you not to be able to just live. For me, my faith in Christ--symbolized here with the act of communion--is what I desparately need and what helps me live. I hope that you can find something like that.


Josh Gentry said...

"Perhaps I can forge my own path to enlightenment."

Another anology. You can hack your way through the forest with a machete, or you can take a path already laid down. Whatever that means :-)

Cool Hand Luke said...

Thank you for sharing, Jim. I haven't yet found that renewable well to draw from. Perhaps I will.

Josh, Can you really follow someone else's path to "enlightenment"? That doesn't seem quite right to me.