Behind Anger Is Loss

My bestest friends in the whole wide world are too kind. They listened to me whine and complain this past weekend (again) about how I’m so frustrated and angry with not having any money. They let me carry on and on when they should have told me to shut my mouth and get a grip.

The problem is, I can’t get past my anger. I’m still mad that I lost my job in 2008 and that we lost all our savings in the market crash. I’m furious that it took me three years to find another job that didn’t come anywhere near the salary I needed. Okay, I just nudged myself in the ribs. I need to shut up about it.

But it’s hard to be quiet when it seems the whole world is angry along with me. We’re in the throes of a nasty presidential election and candidates are struggling to appear poised and composed. Their followers prod them with chants of rage and the main networks run those scenes 24/7 to boost ratings. Protestors are breaking out in fights at campaign rallies, and others are blaming the candidates for it all. I can’t remember a time in my life when so many people were so angry.

Today I had an Aha! moment. I’ll bet many of those angry protestors are people just like me—working in a lower job, making less than we need (if we’re lucky enough to have a job), frustrated by the fact that eight years post-recession we are no better off. We just want all the bad stuff to stop!

Sure we can point fingers at the current president and the president before him. If we really want to, we can go all the way back to when Ronald Reagan was president and blame him. Assigning blame isn’t going to change the situation. It might make us feel better, but the fact is we’re angry because our dreams were shattered or even worse, they never even had a chance to come alive.

Therein lies loss. And knowing that just makes me all the angrier. I despise loss. It’s right up there with cleaning toilets and picking up dog poop. I don’t want to deal with loss anymore. I just want to leave it there in a pile and walk away from it. Let someone else clean up the mess because I’ve had my fill. Just like Howard Beale I want to yell, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

I’ve been swimming upstream for more than eight years trying to find the root of a small tree that I can grab hold of and secure myself. I’m tired. The water’s cold. And it’s crowded. There’s no room to move about because so many of us are treading water. How are we ever going to lift ourselves up out of this damn stream?

Visiting with my friends this weekend I learned they’re in the stream with me, furiously swimming along, trying to make ends meet, and trying to find that root to grasp. But they’re dealing with it so much better than I am. If they’re angry, they aren’t showing it. If they’re depressed, they’re hiding it much better than I can. I know they’re tired too. But what is their secret? How are they dealing so well with their anger and loss? They look composed and pulled together. I feel like a hot mess beside them, flapping my mouth, spewing words without thinking.

“Good morning, Mr. Beale. They tell me you’re a madman.”

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The Mercy Year

Libraries sometimes have a special offer when you can return overdue books, no matter how long they’ve been out, free of charge. It’s a forgiveness that I’ve never been able to take part in because I always return my library books. Maybe they’ve been late once in a while, but I always pay the fine. Life is good.

Lately I’ve been contemplating whether the Catholic Church, in this Year of Mercy that Pope Francis has proclaimed, would be willing to make a similar deal. No matter how long it’s been since my last confession and no matter how many sins I’ve committed, would a priest be willing to sit down and hear my story and help me find a clean slate?

I have no way of knowing for certain, but I’m guessing my last confession took place more than forty-five years ago. A lot of water has gone under the bridge. I was a naïve eleven year old, somewhat spoiled, mostly sheltered from all the bad things in life. The worst sin I committed was likely calling my brother a name or not getting home on time for supper.

Then along came an overheard conversation about how my mom had cancer and I had to look up the word in a dictionary to find out what was going on. Even in her last days when she was in a coma my family could not be honest with me and tell me she was going to die. They wouldn’t let me see her to say good-bye. Two years later cancer took my father too. By that time I was an angry adolescent strung out on love deprivation.

How I managed to maneuver high school and college (miracles on their own) by not ending up in jail or rehab or pregnant is beyond my comprehension. Truly, I credit divine intervention. I didn’t have one guardian angel; I had a whole team. God knows, I tried my best to mess up my life and my future. But somehow I always seemed to end up okay. Maybe a few battle scars but generally unscathed.

Still, sins were committed. And I’ve reached a point in my life where I am not proud of those things and I feel the need to tell my story. I don’t want to sit in a confessional booth and go through the list, one at a time. I want a face-to-face conversation, a telling of my story, a purging of all the bad intermingled with the good things I’ve done. I want to tell my story, good and bad, and in the end find a reasonable penance.

Some might argue I’ve paid penance already in my life and yes, I agree I have. Some anyway. People might say that because I am consciously choosing to admit my sins and through confession I seek forgiveness, it shall be granted. I agree with that as well. But to me it’s not the act of confessing, it’s the complete story that I need to unleash. Why it has become so heavy to carry at this point in my life is not an answer I have. I only know it is so. I’d rather do the lion’s share of my penance while I still have time on Earth.

I know if I look hard enough I’ll likely find a priest willing to sit with me, one-on-one, and hear my story. I would hope that he would listen to everything and help me come up with a meaningful plan of action that doesn’t feel trite or insignificant, like Fr. Schultz’s “Say one Our Father and Three Hail Marys and help your mother with the dishes the rest of the week.”

I am not afraid of penance. I am not afraid of priests. But I have been away from the church for far too long, and I have not and still do not agree with some of the decisions made by church leaders. I am saddened by the bad things that have happened. I am frustrated with the greed and annoyed by the attitudes of some church leaders. Forgive me Father for I have sinned, but the church has sinned as well. I want a conversation that encompasses all of that, and more.

Pope Francis smiles and hugs and reaches out. He communicates without words. He makes the Church look so accessible. I seek a cleansing, a purging, some pain, healing, forgiveness and mercy. Is the Church capable?

Surviving Sick-cation

I had planned for weeks that I would take five days off of work for a stay-cation and paint our living room ceiling. And if that went well, then I’d paint our kitchen ceiling. And maybe even paint the walls too. I’ve done a lot of painting over the years, so I knew exactly what I was getting into. Sure, it’s been a few years since I did that big of a job, but I knew I could do it.

I woke up on my first day off feeling determined and energized. I spent the morning prepping the room, then ran some errands, and then just after lunch I cracked open the primer paint. It wasn’t laborious work, just tedious. Ceilings are trickier than walls. Instead of painting the trim all around and then returning to “start” to do the roller painting, with ceilings you have to paint it all at once as you go so it never has a chance to dry. So a little of the trim work, then a little of the roller work, then trim, then roller. Up the ladder, down the ladder, move the ladder, up the ladder, down. You got it.

A couple of times I got light headed and told myself to open the windows a little more and to slow down as I climbed up and down the ladder. Even though my body was aching more than usual, I refused to accept that I was too old to be doing this big of a job. By the afternoon, I noticed I couldn’t hear out of my right ear. Strange. And I found myself a lot more wore out than usual. I reassessed my plan and decided the kitchen ceiling—being twice the size of the living room ceiling—was too big a project for me to handle alone even if I didn’t plan on applying a primer coat. I refused to believe I was getting old and made a rash decision that no one else was going to notice the difference between the “new white” and the “old white” of the two rooms.

Day Two I ran some more errands first thing, waiting for the full light of day before grabbing a paint brush. Since this coat was the “real” paint, I worked a little harder making sure it was applied properly but fast. My hearing was back in my right ear, but I was getting an echo. Not a good sign. By midafternoon, the ceiling was done and it looked fantastic. I loved the “fresh” look but now the walls looked dingy. I had a feeling that might happen, so I was prepared. I started to prep the room to paint the walls.

I stopped at suppertime to run more errands with my husband and have dinner out. At one of our stops I found myself standing next to one of those quick-stop clinics inside a big-box store, so I decided I’d have someone take a look to make sure I didn’t have something going on with my ear. No ear infection but a whole lot of fluid build-up behind the ear drum. So with a prescription of antibiotics in hand for a sinus infection, we stopped at a favorite restaurant for dinner. And as we sat waiting for our food, I suddenly felt very ill. I maybe ate three bites of my meal. My husband said I looked awful. Gee, thanks.

Most of that night I spent in the bathroom. The next day is all a blurry memory. I know I drank lots of fluids and I ate some soup, but I don’t remember much else. But the next morning, I felt rested and ready to get back at it. So I painted the living room walls. And then I cleaned up the room and moved back all the furniture. That’s when I realized the mistake of my earlier decision to not paint the kitchen ceiling. There was no denying people would notice the difference. Still, I knew it was just too big a job for me to do alone and I’d have to find someone to help me or save money to hire out the job. I went to bed feeling satisfied with my hard work in the living room but disappointed that I discovered my limit and couldn’t do the kitchen myself.    

In the middle of the night, I woke up as sick as I had been before. That’s when I realized my second mistakeof thinking I had paced myself. And I spent the next two days laying low, reading a book, watching TV, feeling old. Tomorrow is my last paid day off. I will spend it cleaning bathrooms and doing laundry (I hope). I’m grateful I will work only two days before I have the weekend off.

It’s right up there in the Top 10 list of disappointments for a working person—getting sick while on vacation from work. It doesn’t matter that I hadn’t planned a trip or some extravagant outing. The fact remains, I spent days of hard-earned paid time off laying in bed or on the couch with the double whammy of a sinus infection and the stomach flu. I can’t get that time back. Just thinking about it makes me feel queasy.