My season of anger

Angry bird. hms831/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

When I learned our local farmers' market was "closing indefinitely" -- the latest community COVID-19 casualty, following in-person work, social gatherings, and church services -- I took to bed. At 9:30 am. On a Sunday.

The market closure was not surprising, and I agreed with the action, but the news capped off one of the most anxious, overwhelming weeks of my life as the coronavirus pandemic took root in the United States. This latest blow to "daily life as I know it" switched my beleageured body to "off," effective immediately. I went upstairs, laid down, and passed two hours in a fitful, unhappy sleep. And when I woke up, what I felt most keenly was ... anger.

Anger that our federal government's response is insufficient, inept, and ignorant.

Anger that humans of all ages and backgrounds will die as a result of this incompetence.

Anger that the groups most harmed by this crisis will be those who already live on the razor's edge.

Anger that our country's most pervasive and critical underlying systems -- healthcare, politics, economics, education -- have been built on sand rather than rock.

Anger that many caregivers are forced to handle what is essentially two full-time jobs at a time of great mental, physical, and financial stress -- or worse, forced to choose between caring for their loved ones or remaining employed.

Anger that some people think this global event is a conspiracy or, worse, a lark.

Anger that many people (myself included) keep forgetting to keep six feet of distance at the grocery store or the park.

Anger that I didn't take the threat seriously enough to stock up on more frozen vegetables.

Anger that I can't see my extended family or my friends.

Anger that I feel I can no longer unplug from my devices.

Anger that my toddler won't nap on the precise day I desperately need personal downtime to recharge.

From the national to the personal, the philosophical to the mundane, the anger roils through me in fresh waves at unpredictable moments. (Well, not totally unpredictable; reading the news is a known trigger.) I am not a fundamentally angry person, so steeping in this emotion for three days going on who knows how many is neither comfortable nor comforting. I find value in self-reflection and seek to solve problems. But right now, because all I see before me is a wash of glaring red, I cannot carve out the brain- or heart-space to cultivate hope.

What's more, this unprecedented crisis is occurring smack dab in the middle of Lent, a season explicitly designated for spiritual reflection and preparation. As my mother said a couple weeks ago before ish really hit the fan, "Maybe this [referring to the extreme nature of our present moment] is Lent." Yet I can't help but feel I'm also falling short there. Not only am I an inadequate employee, spouse, parent, and global citizen, I'm a poor Catholic whose intended Lenten practice -- to eat less meat out of concern for the environment -- has come about mainly because all we can consistently find at the grocery store are non-perishable lentils.

In these strange times, however, reassurance surfaces in surprising places. I felt some measure of comfort when I read this Harvard Business Review article, a Q&A with grief expert David Kessler, about the non-linear cycles of grief and the value of naming your emotion for what it is (emphasis mine):
When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion. It’s important we acknowledge what we go through. One unfortunate byproduct of the self-help movement is we’re the first generation to have feelings about our feelings. We tell ourselves things like, I feel sad, but I shouldn’t feel that; other people have it worse. We can — we should — stop at the first feeling. I feel sad. Let me go for five minutes to feel sad. Your work is to feel your sadness and fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn’t help because your body is producing the feeling. If we allow the feelings to happen, they’ll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us. Then we’re not victims.

Maybe my mother was onto something. Maybe my work right now -- the work of the pandemic, the work of Lent -- is to allow denial/anger/bargaining/sadness/acceptance/joy/relief/hope to unfold, circulate, germinate, and bloom whenever, however they choose. For feeling takes effort, not just in the noticing and naming, but in the experiencing. Feeling can make us sympathetic and empathetic; it draws us closer to our fellow humans, and thus closer to God -- the express purpose of Lent.

Before this pandemic ends, I would love to achieve the space and peace to contemplate: What might be different when this has passed? What will I do to ensure that the world is different in the most right, just, and humane ways? Then again, that might not happen. All I might learn is how much I can hold. Perhaps I'll discover that what I already hold is enough.

Prayer #355: Rage Against the Machine(s)

Outbursting God,

Direct my anger at the things that deserve it.

Aim it at systems (broken, insidious); institutions (peculiar, too big to fail); and attitudes (isolationist, selfish) that perpetuate harm.

And when the white-hot rage flames out, leaving behind a despondent and sputtering ash, mold my despair into true empathy, a moral golem that protects the downtrodden and fights for the oppressed.

May I wait with the imprisoned. Dine with the hungry. Huddle with the refugee. Shelter the homeless. Welcome the lonely. Heed the prophets.

In this way anger becomes action, and action bears Your love.