In a week or two I may be grateful for yesterday, but this morning I feel beaten up. Grateful: I reached a new level of understanding my personal call as a world citizen. Beaten up: several brushes with reptilian anger. That’s ungenerous, I guess. Reptiles are people, too.
Brush #1 didn’t have much effect on me, other than starting the day on a rancorous note. I rarely read book reviews, mostly because mine have been crappy, but while sipping coffee and warming to my writing hour, I checked out Michiko Kakutani’s assessment of Norman Rush’s novel Subtle Bodies. Why would the New York Times publish such a slaughter? Kakutani went after Rush like Hannibal Lector sliced up that poor jail guard in Silence of the Lambs: the lovely aria of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” playing as a blood-smeared Anthony Hopkins basks in his kill. I’ve never read Norman Rush and never heard of Michiko Kakutani, but it’s hard to imagine a novel that deserves komodo dragon treatment like this:
- “an eye-rollingly awful read”
- “Readers given to writing comments in their books are likely to find themselves repeatedly scrawling words like ‘narcissistic,’ ‘ridiculous,’ ‘irritating’ and ‘pretentious’ in the margins.”
- Adjectives employed: “cloying”; “claustrophobic”; “totally annoying”; “insufferable”; “flimsy”; “tiresome”; “solipsistic”
Geez! As you might expect, writers don’t cozy up to such savagery. Jonathan Franzen has called Kakutani “the stupidest person in New York” and “an international embarrassment.” Ha. Take that! A nasty book review is no skin off my nose, but when I left Starbucks and headed off to church work, I wasn’t thinking, “Ah, how sweet the morning air is.”
Cut to late afternoon for brush #2: Micah called to report that at long last he received a response to repeated phone messages about fines associated with his drug-related felony conviction. In short, the kid’s been trying to set up a payment plan and eating weeks and week of courthouse static. Far from apologizing for failing to get back to Micah, the Cyclops who finally called ripped him a new one in loud, deep mumbles. I have only my son’s word to go on, but it sounded to me like a verbal Rodney King ass-whipping–this for someone who’s been clean for over a year, following all the rules with bowels aquiver, and holding down a full-time job.
$%&*@! I don’t remember the last time I’d been so enraged. The evening was a controlled train wreck as I strained through a meeting and a short worship service and washed the day down with a couple of splashes from an econo-box of burgundy. (By the way, for a fun piece on capitalizing wine names, check out this by William Safire.)
This morning, my prayer was like a car out of alignment. I’d written a letter to the local probation office—probably never to be sent—to drain off some of my anger yesterday afternoon, but my prayer a few hours ago kept pulling toward the conversation I’d like have with the Cyclops. I’ve named him this, by the way, because he didn’t have the courtesy to identify himself when he called.
Much as I’m uncomfortable with anger, it’s not all bad. The late Christopher Hitchens once said in an interview that he found hate to be a wonderfully motivating force for his writing. Upset people can accomplish a lot. But now for my gratefulness: anger is not my calling; it’s not what I have to contribute as a planetary resident; though fury is having its way with me now, I know what I ought to be about. In the flawed silence of prayer, the Spirit helped me learn a couple of things: 1.) I’m not going to deny the rage residing in my chest, which has me gulping in cleansing breaths. 2.) I consume my earthly share of oxygen, avocados, fossil fuel, and beverages for a single reason: to regard everybody and everything with loving eyes. That’s it. That’s the ball game.
Of course, I specialize in messing up this calling. Naming my son’s caller the Cyclops is a failure, but I’m still operating out of my own reptilian brain. I want to let out a rant against the guy from probation like Chevy Chases’ tirade against his boss in “Christmas Vacation.” I want to give him a turbo purple nurple, a burlap wedgie, a swirly in a ballpark toilet after One Dollar Succotash and Sauerkraut Night. I want to fill his house with clones of Joan Rivers, Don Rickles, Carol Channing, Sam Kinison, Mr. T., Pee Wee Herman, Phyllis Diller, Gilbert Gottfried, Tiny Tim, Roseanne Roseannadanna, and the cast of “Gilligan’s Island.” You get the idea: my heart’s pumping crocodile blood at the moment.
Noodling around with creative revenge is fun, but it’s not what I’m about. I’ll get past this cruddy karma. What I won’t get past is love. Most of my wells are shallow or fetid, but for whatever reason, I have love to spare. So, thankfully, when shamatha gets my brain human again, I’ll get back to work. Eventually, in my imagination I’ll have a compassionate conversation with the Cyclops, taking into account the probability that he listens to a dozen people a day lying, playing stupid, or making excuses. His red voicemail light is hot to the touch.
I’m eye-rollingly awful at some jobs, but most days I can hold what’s before my eyes in a kind embrace. I’m grateful to have words to put to such a life purpose. Pray for me that I understand myself.