One Spring day, my first-grade class walked all the way from the elementary school to the ice cream stand several long blocks away. It seemed like miles for my short little legs. I walked to the window, paid my money, and took two quick licks.
Then watched as the ice cream fell from my cone to the middle of the street. As I watched the vanilla deliciousness melt away, I was heartbroken. I still remember the pain of that loss. The ice cream had sprinkles.
Throughout our lives, we all encounter sadness, disappointment, and loss. Grief is the natural response to losing what is important to us. When a loved one dies, a relationship ends, a job is lost, we suffer chronic illness, our plans are dashed…or we simply watch ice cream melt on the pavement…we can be assured that some degree of sorrow, despair, and grief will soon follow.
I knew that anger was one of the stages of grief, but I thought that meant that I would be angry with my husband for not taking better care of himself or angry with the universe for placing me in this unwelcome and unwanted position. Nope, I could have had those feelings, but in all honesty, I didn’t. Instead, I find that I have a very short fuse with just about everything else. This reaction has taken me completely by surprise.
I’m angry about things that make sense. I’m also angry about things that only, maybe, kinda make sense, and I’m angry, too, about things that rationally make no sense whatsoever. It’s as though I’ve been blowing all my emotions into a balloon that’s stretched taut and just about to burst. It’s the finality and the frustration of loss that has been filling that balloon. Once the ice cream is on the blacktop, there’s no way it’s going back in the cone. The exasperation of that moment has to go somewhere, so it is transmuted into anger. A fair amount of jealousy is trying to find release too. A six-year-old watching her classmates blissfully licking ice cream is a case in point. Sadness, frustration, and jealousy are all swirling around together, pushing at the sides of that expanding latex sphere.
Recently, I saw Billy Elliott The Musical in Stratford, Ontario. In one scene, Billy is consumed with anger and frustration. He channels his distress into dance as a way to…as my mom used to say…get the mad out.
Just as everyone experiences loss and grief, no one escapes feelings of anger. Even Jesus was filled with righteous indignation. We’ve been taught to keep our emotions under control…”Keep Calm and Carry On”, but it is important that wherever they originate…the deep despair of death, the myriad minor daily exasperations, or watching ice cream puddle at your feet…to feel all the feels. It’s not healthy to deny or suppress anger. Bottled anger often destroys the vessel that contains it. Might as well look it in the eye and name it. Don’t be afraid to feel the heat and energy of it. Let it wash over you and wallow in it for a spell. Know it for what it is. Then find a way to let the air out of the balloon. Channel that power into a form of positive expression and find a way to get the mad out that doesn’t involve kicking the cat, breaking the dishes, or giving yourself another reason to be angry.
“We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
My short fuse won’t last forever, but it will probably come again. When it does, I’ll be ready for it, recognize it, and then like Billy, maybe I can transform it into something creative and beautiful, and perhaps…after a satisfyingly inappropriate gesticulation or two… it will lead me back to wholeness.