It was not my finest moment.
I was tired. Frustrated. Anxious about a project at work. Masking insecurity and that sort of self-doubt that leaves you shaky inside with a superfluous anger.
I stomped up the stairs, working up a righteous kind of mad at the world, and continued stomping to my room where I, with great intention, slammed the door.
In the two seconds it took for a rush of air to get caught between the vehemently closing door and a fireplace mantle, I slipped through, just as that rush of air scooped up a china jewelry tray, and a framed vintage vinyl recording of Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s “Carousel,” slamming all of it to the foot-wide slab of marble flooring below the mantle.
I’ve never seen glass shatter with such a resounding crash. Never seen it splinter into more pieces than I could possibly count. Jewelry bounced across the bedroom floor as it landed, thankfully away from the marble and on to the carpet. And the china tray that held it all found shelter from the impact as it landed on top of the album’s cardboard sleeve.
I stood there. Frozen. A rush of shame flushing my cheeks, the temper I’d worked myself into dissipating faster than one boxer-terrier mix and a teenager could fly up the stairs to see what had caused such sound and fury.
The two middle fingers of my right hand will not draw up next to each other. Or even lie on a flat surface lined up together. There’s a thin, ragged V separating them — so much so that I can Vulcan salute like I wrote Mr. Spock’s character myself.
They weren’t always as they are. I think I was about 11 when, enraged as only a pre-teen can be at my mother (for what I’ve forgotten long ago), I’d rushed sobbing down the long hallway of our South Texas home, yelling, I’m sure, some sort of promise to never speak to her again, and took a flying leap onto my double bed, only to have my right hand land before the rest of me, wrenching the two middle fingers away from one another, the ring finger remaining, from that day on, slightly crooked.
I have a vague memory of (of course) immediately running back to my mother, shrieking in pain, her sympathy and desire to fix the pain perhaps less than it normally would be (and, y’all, let’s be honest — rightfully so).
Rushing off in a huff, giving into anger (and whatever other emotion it’s making a feeble attempt to mask) – these things do not work out well for me.
There is a time and place for real anger. For grief or anxiety or fear to give full voice to its presence in such a way that our true (in that moment) self is known and can be tended to. Things that are not spoken, are not faced, cannot be healed.
But man-oh-man y’all. The issue we name is so often not it at all.
A good 90 percent of the time we’re all walking around so wounded we cannot even speak the pain. But the thing is, pain will not be silenced. And if it is not given it’s moment, it will find another way — settling into our jawline with the fierce spasms that TMJ sufferers know; bubbling up when we least expect it because a movie character or storyline makes emoting possible; tightening our shoulders.
Or, worse yet, forcing itself out in self-harming behavior, angry words at those we love, sabotaging important life-giving relationships because we can’t get out of our own way long enough to see what’s keeping us from the promise of goodness and life on the other side of what’s eating us alive.
We don’t like to talk about our not-so-fine moments. We don’t like to own up to the times when the very worst of us triumphs over the very best and we’re left wondering how we got to this particular minute, with a treasured gift lying in pieces on the floor, our heartbeat beginning to slow now that the explosion has passed, somehow finding the words to say, quietly, “I’m so sorry. This is just not good, is it?”
I will never stop saying this — because I believe it in the very depths of my soul: As individuals, as communities, as a country, we are white hot with pain that has not been given its moment to speak its truth. And it is drowning us- so we gasp for air by clinging to our sides of the aisle, pulling against our terrified chests our long-held beliefs about what’s right and wrong with nary a thought to how our belief might tread on someone else’s deeply held faith or desire or dream. We are a country lost in a sea of tremendous pain, and instead of facing it, instead of letting it wash over us, we avoid its hurt by hurting one another, by pointing fingers, by declaring “stupid” those who see the world differently than we might.
Where does it hurt, y’all? What is inside you that feels so tender that you can barely stand to name it? What dream are you so afraid to acknowledge, for fear your heart might once again lie broken on the kitchen floor? What is it that scares you so much, what is it that has made you so sad, that your only defense is to strike out at another?
What’s working you into such a sea of tangled emotion inside that you can’t see what’s good around you? What’s worth giving thanks for? What’s possible? What’s real and true and worth fighting for?
These are things we have to ask ourselves, first, before anything else gets sorted out.
Like I had to kneel down at the edge of hundreds of pieces of broken glass and sort out, with self-care and intention and patience, where I was to start, so that the shards could be picked up without tearing anything else apart.
We were made in and for love, y’all. Created to know joy, to live life with and for one another. There’s no way to know any of this without also knowing pain.
Our hope lies in letting it do its work, letting it speak its truth, so that those tender, sharp places can be made whole again.