I woke up this morning to a friend messaging me through Instagram about her anxiety around the news and all the civil unrest. It was good timing because today is one of the rare days when my anxiety is mostly under control, so I was able to console her a bit.
As a mostly white (I’m honestly all mixed racially, though) woman who is married to a black man, and as someone who studied African American literature in college, issues of race are really important to me even though they don’t usually affect me very much. I’m not going to get all pedantic about the state of the world and try to lecture people one way or the other, and I’m also not going to go into why I think what’s happening in the streets right now is predictable. But what I will say is that whatever you believe is the correct behavior for the moment, what’s actually happening is that humans are really hurting.
When I went through my divorce many years ago, I passed through a stage where I was so angry that I couldn’t say enough F words to get it out. I was not a person who had ever cussed much, and I certainly never said that word because it felt like the worst of the worst, but an accumulation of negative experiences began to change who I was and how I behaved. I was looking for a valve to release the pressure and that word was the best one I could find.
I’d also started to go through these mini rages at home alone when I’d never been a particularly angry person before. After each storm finally passed through my system, my true emotions would start to take over and my eyes would rain buckets as I realized I was actually deeply hurt. People who are angry are hurt. Remember that. An angry person is someone you could potentially be if your life circumstances had aligned in a certain way.
Most of us can surely recall times when we've exploded. We usually explode with words and use them to wound those around us, but sometimes we take a step beyond words into physical action. This may mean we throw something against the wall or punch a hole in it because we recognize that hurling objects (or fists) at humans isn’t a good way to go, and thankfully most of us engage in these escalated explosions sparingly.
When I used to explode particularly badly, my favorite behavior was to use a pillow to beat the arm of the sofa or the footboard of my bed. There was also one time, again during a divorce-era mini rage, when I took a big wine glass and shattered it in the sink so as not to create a huge mess for myself after the explosion was over. At least I had the mental faculties to contain the glass to a small area rather than spewing it across my kitchen.
Even with all of the work I've done to be a happier person and to heal myself, I still beat the bed or sofa with a pillow on the rare occasions when lifelong hurts get the best of me. And I wonder if that’s how some people with lifelong hurts are feeling right now? And then I think, what if my own hurt/anger was amped up by centuries of abuse and pain rather than just a few years or decades? I wonder, then, what sort of explosion I might have?
I don’t condone violent behavior. I never do, because I don’t think violence is a good solution to anything and it usually brings about more violence. But I do understand it at this juncture in our history, and I encourage you to try to understand it (understand it, not condone it) instead of judging people for their explosions—especially if you’re a white person like me.
A few days ago, I cried on my husband’s shoulder and hugged his neck, spitting out words in between sobs about how I didn’t want him to be next and how I was afraid he’d get hurt. He reminded me that he’s had to watch his back his entire life, and that what we’re seeing isn’t all that much different than the things he’s had to be aware of for more than four decades while I was blissfully privileged to be born a different color.
As I’ve caught up with the news about fires around the White House and extreme unrest all across the country today, I’ve wondered again if there’s a better spot on planet Earth for me to live out my days. For now, though, I’m going to continue to stand with the oppressed in whatever way I'm able (through my writing, through petitions, through awareness) and just wait to see what transformation comes (or doesn’t come) out of this moment of chaos.
Sometimes big changes come painfully, and I do wonder if we are in the last few pages of a dramatic chapter in the human story. I also think that humans, as a species, can’t seem to get where they need to be without first creating destruction. I’m not sure why this is the case.
But if you’re reading my work, you’re probably one of the humans who is striving to be better. You’re probably a kind person with a good heart; you’re probably introspective and thoughtful; you’re probably someone who would help your neighbor as much as you can. These are the types of people I try to connect with through my writing because we can work together to become a beacon in the darkness. We can still be angry ourselves (my anger is deep and scarlet, believe me), but we can express it constructively while also understanding and holding up our fellow human beings who simply cannot restrain themselves in the same way.
I invite each of us to save our judgment of one another for a different day and instead work together to find solutions. And when we can’t do that - either because we’re emotionally exhausted or because we have no idea what to actually do to help - let’s at least stay in our own bubbles and do no additional harm to humanity while the world is swirling. As I said in my poem, Morning Trash, “We are one people. Two eyes, two feet. Two hands to hold or to steal life.”
Be well and be kind.
My first book, Halfway There: Lessons at Midlife, will be published in July 2020. Click here to read an excerpt and to order a copy.
The Big Pause