Thursday, March 20, 2014

It's All the Rage

Anybody can become angry—that is easy,
but to be angry with the right person
and to the right degree
and at the right time
and for the right purpose,
and in the right way—
that is not within everybody’s power
and is not easy.
~ Aristotle
Laughing Men, Vancouver, B.C.
Picture it:  You’re stopped at a red light waiting for it to turn.  Green. You barely have time to lift your foot from the brake when the car behind you starts blaring the horn.  Maybe she’s trying to tell me something, you think.  Is something wrong with my car?  Stunned, you haven’t moved through the light yet when the driver in the car behind you approaches.  You roll down the window.  She starts screaming at you then punches you in the face.  In self-defense, you cover your face with your hands, but then she grabs your wrist and bites off your middle finger—at the knuckle, through the bone—before fleeing the scene.

Sounds crazy but it’s a true story that happened in my aunt’s Northern Virginia neighborhood.  Aside from the obvious questions, like what allows a person to bite through skin and bone and blood vessels to remove part of a finger?  And once bitten, what do you do with it?  Spit it out?  Throw it in the owner’s car?  Leave it in the street?  I have to ask:  Why are we so angry?

You’re better than that.

You’re not an angry person, not the fighting kind.  You’re a volunteer, your son’s baseball coach, a Sunday school teacher at church.  Just last month, you attended a community fundraising event and donated money to support a local homeless shelter.

And yet you have these moments where anger gets the better of you—where ugliness turns you inside out and the worst parts of your nature are revealed; moments when your frustration builds to a fury and explodes in ridiculous ways as you burn those around you with your annoyance. 

Like yesterday when you got stuck in the wrong line at Whole Foods.  You stopped on your way from work, in a hurry to get home and make dinner.  You only needed three things, which should have taken five minutes from door to door.  Instead, the woman from Minnesota in front of you decides to write a check for her groceries.  Slowly. And of course, the cashier couldn’t figure out how to enter an out of state check into the system, which led to multiple cries for help on the P.A. system that went unanswered, followed by more failed attempts to process the check.  You’re ashamed to admit it, but you were huffing and puffing and on the verge of throwing your money at the cashier and storming out with your groceries.

Then, as you’re headed home, there’s a guy driving slow in the pass lane, blocking the free flow of traffic.  As you try to pass him on the right, you see that he’s talking on his cell phone and completely oblivious to the fact that there are other people on the road.  You make a point to give him your best stink eye with your face just inches from your window, and nearly rear-end the car in front of you because you’re so blinded by your rage.  Now you’re laying on your horn, screaming some shameful obscenity that your offender can’t even hear and, which, in any other moment you wouldn’t dare speak.  What's wrong with you?  One look in the mirror and you would see the reflection of a crazy person.

The scary thing is—you’re not alone.  There are a lot of “you” out there.

Take a look around.  We’re all losing it over something or another.  Our anger boils over in our politics and religions, in our music and social networking, in our schools and sporting events, in our jobs.  We rage over inconveniences.  We shake our fists with righteous indignation when others don’t do what we want.  Why? 

Have we become a culture so entitled to comfort and ease that we steamroll anyone or anything that gets in our way?  Are we simply scared of not getting what we want, afraid that we can’t handle it if things don’t go our way?  Perhaps we’re so accustomed to expressing our feelings and anger that we can’t keep it in check anymore.  Or maybe we’re suffering from a spiritual starvation that demands to be fed yet we don’t even realize what we’re hungry for? 

Its not an easy question to answer.  For starters, there just aren’t any clear-cut ways to judge how pissed off people really are, and why.  Perhaps we can ponder this the next time we’re recovering from a meltdown.  I dare you.  It’s all the rage. 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Stressing the Vine

When we long for life without difficulties,
remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds
and diamonds are made under pressure. 
― Peter Marshall

People speak of wanting an easy life.  But how many of us really want it ‘easy’?  If our desire was met and we faced only comfort and ease, wouldn’t we soon become bored?  Where’s the fun in life without challenge?  Where’s the flavor without spice?  Where’s the growth without pruning?  Would we not seek to create our own chaos if chaos didn’t exist, particularly where situations have become stale or too readily assured?  I dare say that we would.
Yet we hear so much about how unhealthy chronic stress is for our bodies.  We need only turn on the news or read a health post on the Internet to discover all of the reasons why we should rid our lives of this toxin.  Constantly faced with demands, frustrations, hassles and deadlines, it seems impossible to break free.  But do we really want to break free?  Might this be where the magic happens?
Consider the life of a wine grape.  While it’s true that many agricultural endeavors require nutrient rich soil to thrive, winemakers worldwide will tell you that when it comes to growing grapes for wine, fertile soil is not always the best.  In fact, most California vineyards are planted in soil that would choke the life out of other crops.  Growers look for nutrient poor or even dry soil that drains well because it forces the vines to extend their roots far into the dirt to find sustenance—stressing the vine—and causing them to direct their energy and sugar into grape clusters instead of leaves, which produces small grape berries.  A handful of tiny grapes will be almost all skin and very little juice, which translates into a rich, concentrated color and flavor in the wine.  For these growers and vintners, the stressed grape is the best grape and produces the superior vintage.
Might we also benefit from a bit of stress on the vine?  In our periods of stress we are called to break out of our complacency, extend ourselves beyond the comfort zone, and direct our energy to find ways to thrive even under the most pressure-filled conditions.  We are given an opportunity to turn our negative stressors into positive ones that help us to grow, remain vital and alive.  We learn to think positive and remain hopeful for better days. We discover how strong and capable we are.  And if we stretch, we learn that humor and laughter are the catalysts that lift us out of our oppression and transform us into the most colorful and delicious versions of ourselves, like the wine grape.
So perhaps what we really mean is that we want an ‘easier’ life, every now and then; a break from worrying that a certain wolf may huff and puff and blow our house down.  If an easier life is what you desire then I suggest you can have it, simply by making up your mind to not dwell on factors that you cannot change and, instead, look for ways to set a positive process in motion; and trust that there is a good reason for this.