By Mark E. Smith
Terry wasn’t just mad. She was the angriest individual I’ve ever dealt with.
“What!” she exclaimed every time she answered the phone. Then after trying to argue with me over this or that, she’d hang up on me, only to then call back even madder. Terry would work herself up something fierce.
“Terry, you have to have faith that some of us truly care,” I’d try to explain to her regarding the industry I work in, the one she was furious at. “We’re all truly trying to help you.”
My words were most often overshadowed by her simultaneous yelling, but I was always sincere with her, no less.
Now, it would be easy to assume that there were emotional or mental health issues going on with Terry. But, it was clear there wasn’t – she was just angry, the angriest person I’d ever dealt with.
To a point, I felt for Terry. I mean, can you imagine going through life so bitter and resentful that it consumes you? There’s no question that she saw life as her against a rotten world. That’s an agonizing state to live in.
However, what’s puzzling to me about such angry people is why they give anger so much control over them? After all, it’s not like bad things haven’t happened to the rest of us. I know I have my scars. Yet we’re not consumed by it. Yes, at some point events are going to make us angry. But, we have the power to let it go. When someone darts in front of you in the Walmart parking lot and takes “your” spot, there’s a choice to be made: get out and threaten the person’s life out of anger, or smile and move on to find another spot. Anger isn’t our only option.
While I’ve always been a happy, optimistic person, I haven’t always been free of harboring anger, which is why maybe I empathized with Terry. In my 20s, I harbored tremendous anger at my father, in particular. It wasn’t that he only walked out on our family when I was little, but that by phone he’d pop up from time to time and make promises he wouldn’t keep or say hurtful things as drunks do. That builds a resentment and anger when you’re carrying that inside you while growing up. By my 20s, I was boiling over with anger toward him. At one point I reached out to him – admittedly looking for a capacity that I wanted him to have, Just say you’re sorry, Dad, and make things right – and his ultimate lack of response made me even angrier.
However, after harboring anger toward him for years, I realized he wasn’t the one hurting me – I was hurting myself. By my 30s I had so much good in my life, why let a guy who gave me no thought, drinking himself to death in a trailer in the mountains thousands of miles away, induce three decades of anger in me? The situation was the situation, no harm was being done to me anymore, so why not let it go?
So, I did. I was me, he was him, and the two no longer needed to effect each other. Before his death, I went 10 years without speaking to my father. I made the choice to let it all go – any anger, any resentment – and it worked. My life was genuinely happy, and I wished him no harm. It was a weight lifted off of my heart.
I learned a lot in that process, that while there are places and times for anger, it’s not healthy to hold on to it, and it’s certainly not healthy to let it interfere with that which is good in our lives. Some think holding on to anger is a sign of their strength. However, I learned that holding on to anger is an ultimate weakness that… well… simply holds us back.