I stopped at a stoplight last night and I breathed. Like many hingepoint moments in history, this one was low on the razzle-dazzle. I had come over the hill and stopped on the other side, when I saw the red light. Sometimes, there, you can see the moon tucked in between sycamores and the swaying streets.
Last night you could not see the moon.
As the street had dropped down, approaching the light, I felt my anger bubble up. Bubbles look glittery in a Coke, and lacy in the bathtub, but actually bubbles are dangerous. You could kill someone with a champagne cork. Or crinkle the crap out of your china cabinet. Or burp.
I took a day off work this week because I was afraid I would lose it. I can be frustrated or tired at work, but when I am sarcastic, I know I have to take a day off. The danger signal this time came when a student refused to use the stubby pencil I had given her.
It was already ridiculous that she had to get a writing utensil from me, and now she sneered, “I don’t want to use this.” “Really?” I said, not in my usual mild, colorless, reflective tone, which shames students into compliance, but with a “Saturday Night Live” snottiness.
I survive work with a lot of dry humor, but even as I heard myself saying this, I was thinking, This is over my line. I’m about to lose it.
So I took the next day off, finally getting the sleep I had been starving for, and shedding my headache. At the end of this blessed day off, I was going to read a little and drink a cup of the best coffee in town.
This was a wonderful plan except that the coffeehouse was packed to the gills. Someone was sitting at my one usual table, and someone else, equally clueless, was sitting at my other usual table.
I had better reasons to be angry and frustrated, better reasons than a lack of tables at coffee or a kid refusing to use a pencil. We all do.
What interested me more than the cause of my anger was how I was able to notice it. I have started to notice not when I’m about to lose my temper, but also the infusion of the violent gaseous energy. I’m going to hurt someone. I will hurt someone so I will feel better. Once the bubbles burst, that is what’s left. Desire for violence. Gleaming like rock candy, shiny like villain teeth.
It’s outrageously satisfying, in that moment, to scream, crush, throttle, blather, slam, or abandon. It’s great to do it to someone else, but it can be even more succulent to do it to yourself. The last thing that occurs to you is that you could just sit there, feel angry, and breathe.
For some reason, I did breathe at the stoplight. And then continue driving home when the light turned green.
I recently had a conversation with some Christian types about miracles. Feeding of the five thousand. Calming the sea. We frowned and furrowed our brows over what these stories meant. I don’t know if Jesus really made waves fall flat, or if his friends felt safe whenever he was around. If he had that kind of calming skill, I can understand why he got so famous.
But I know it’s a miracle when anger bubbles tickle your nose and you can drink up without getting smashed. When somehow the waters are calmed. That’s a miracle every time.