My uncle worked at least three jobs at a time for most of his adult life.
First and foremost, he was a policeman: a good one, the kind little boys like my son want to grow up to be like. At various stages in his career, he served on the SWAT team, as a detective, then finally (and fatally) as a motorcycle cop. He died doing what he loved, but his loss left a gaping hole in the fabric of the world for everyone who loved him.
When he wasn't being a cop, though, he worked security at banks and other businesses, and for many years he had a thriving lawn mowing business. People adored him; he was a hometown boy who played football and baseball in high school and grew up to be affable, handsome, and honest. In addition to standing for law and order, my uncle, aunt, and cousin attended services at the Baptist church dressed up in their Sunday best every week. People felt safer with him coming and going at their homes, and his smile and laughter were legendary. He had business coming out his ears.
One of the lawns he kept for decades belonged to my grandparents' next door neighbors. No doubt I overheard this story when I wasn't supposed to be listening, so I can't claim 100% accuracy with the details. But what I understood to have happened was this:
The neighbor went out to try to pay my uncle while he was still mowing, so the neighbor walked up unnoticed in the wake of his mower. Before he came outside, the neighbor saw my uncle's lips moving like he was having a conversation with someone, but he just assumed my uncle was singing a song or something to distract him from the heat and hard work. As the neighbor came up closer behind my uncle, though, he realized what was coming out of my uncle's mouth was a stream of foul and festering curse words, words spewing a rage no one had any idea existed. The neighbor backed off so that my uncle wouldn't realize he'd overheard--to spare my uncle the embarrassment of being caught in such a raw moment--but he wanted my grandparents to know about it because it seemed so unlike their charming, smiling son.
My aunt was slowly dying at the time. The doctor had assured her for months that the lump she felt couldn't possibly be cancer: at 25, she was too young for that. By the afternoon my uncle was cursing up a storm behind his lawnmower, she'd been through surgery after surgery and round after round of radiation and chemo. Nothing worked, and she eventually died at age 33, leaving behind my uncle and their ten-year-old daughter.
He had so many reasons to scream curse words under the cover of his mower.
Anger isn't something I'm used to expressing, but it can't help but bubble up from time to time. There are some hot tempers in my bloodline, and in certain moments, I know the apple didn't fall far from the tree. Ask my children what happens when they take things just one step too far, and you'll hear plenty of stories. One time my oldest daughter and I were taking silly photos during a soccer tournament, and she told me to "make a mad face." I said I didn't have one, and without missing a beat, she said, "Oh yes, you do."
Of course I do. Anger is a form of passion, and it would be ridiculous to think that someone who approaches the world with as much curiosity and passion as I do would not feel anger. It's funny: I have no problem allowing myself to experience intense sadness and pain--that seems like the only way to heal sometimes--and I revel in every moment of joy that comes my way. Yet I twist myself into knots to avoid anger.
For years, I wouldn't--couldn't--let myself be really and truly angry. My ability to regulate that emotion became a matter of survival for me, and I'm grateful I'm good at controlling my anger rather than letting it control me. But anger has a tendency to come out sideways if you don't address it head on, and I think part of what I'm dealing with right now is the result of stuffing it out of sight to be unpacked later.
Except maybe now is later, as timing and circumstances conspire to force me to navigate through my anger instead of continuing to avoid it. If I don't, I might not ever get to where I need to be.
I was looking for a mindfulness exercise to give my writing group last week, and I came across this from a meditation on patience in Jon Kabat-Zinn's Wherever You Go, There You Are:
"Scratch the surface of impatience and what you will find lying beneath it, subtly or not so subtly, is anger. It's the strong energy of not wanting things to be the way they are and blaming someone (often yourself) or something for it" (48, emphasis added).
Those words have been running around playing flashlight tag in the darker parts of my heart and mind ever since I read them.
But as my dad once told me, anger is really fear with a dose of adrenaline. When I process the things that make me angry, I need to go the next step and trace them to the fear at their origin:
So I was grateful for how Kabat-Zinn's meditation on patience continues:
[Right understanding] doesn't just spring up spontaneously. It needs to be practiced, cultivated. It's not that feelings of anger don't arise. it's that the anger can be used, worked with, harnessed so that its energies can nourish patience, compassion, harmony, and wisdom in ourselves and perhaps others as well. . . .
We know that things unfold according to their own nature. We can remember to let our lives unfold in the same way. We don't have to let our anxieties and our desire for certain results dominate the quality of the moment, even when things are painful. When we have to push, we push. When we have to pull, we pull. But we know when not to push too, and when not to pull.
Through it all, we attempt to bring balance to the present moment, understanding that in patience lies wisdom, knowing that what will come next will be determined in large measure by how we are now (50, emphasis mine).
It's okay for me to be angry, and I have plenty to be angry about. I have to give myself permission to experience anger, to really own it and express it at appropriate times and in healthy ways. To know that it's okay to want things to be different than the way they are, yet fully accept and embrace the reality of what is. One of my favorite songs claims "there's beauty in the breakdown," and I think that's right.
It's possible to use that anger to find balance and propel forward motion, and I think I'm capable of that, too. I just have to practice and get better at it.
My uncle's anger didn't infect the rest of his life. He seems to have let most of it out behind his lawnmower where he could dispose of it along with the bags of grass clippings.
Maybe what I need to do is start a lawn mowing business.
Mother, photographer, writer. Expert in making things up as she goes and figuring things out along the way.