Thursday, June 17, 2010

Worth getting angry

From time to time, questions like mantras come to mind. They stay with me for several months, perhaps a year, turning up unexpectedly when I most need them, and then, like Mary Poppins, disappearing when they've served their purpose. A few years ago, the words "Why not love?" sprang up. At a time when I disliked almost everyone – myself especially – time and again those three little words came to mind, soothing my response to people and giving me a choice about what sort of person I wanted to be. Softer now, in love with life and most people I meet, I almost never think them any more – they've done their job.

These days, I have a new question. When my daughters whinge and argue and stall; when friends or family let me down; when a toddler kicks a door or arches their back as I'm trying to strap them into a pram, I find myself wondering, "is this worth getting angry about?". Even in the midst of a swelling rage, even when I've already begun shouting, I hear the question. And most of the time, I can answer: it's not. I take a deep breath, the rage dissipates, and I try something new: a joke, a song, a quiet reprimand, a blind eye – whatever comes to mind, which is why you'll so often find me singing loudly as I wander down Lygon Street. It's the way I dispel my rage at reckless drivers on the walk to school.

But today my daughter was brushed by a car. Our little procession – me, the pram, and two girls on scooters* – were crossing with the traffic at a green pedestrian light. A stopped car facing the red light suddenly rolled forward half its length while we were in front of it. I simultaneously screamed and yanked the pram back and tried to grab at my four year old; the driver slowly braked, brushing my daughter's dress; and my family staggered to the curb. I turned back, still shouting, and the driver looked right though me. And I thought, now that's worth getting angry about.

And then I burst into tears. Weeping, I walked to school, all the while thinking of a walk we did in England and envying a friend who was reminded of her daily walk to school by my story.

But is it worth staying angry? Hours later, after my husband came home from work and I had another big cry, I'm not so sure. Getting angry is great when it fuels creative work, or provides an impetus for change. But getting angry at the way people drive in our suburb? Unless it leads to a social movement, which I lack the time, energy or heart for, it will eat me alive.

Of course I was justifiably angry – and terrified and panicky – at the moment of the incident, but there is no point carrying the rage with me. It doesn't change anyone's driving habits; it only poisons my relationships with husband, children and friends – and any other cars which cross my path.

So instead I weep, and I write. I'll probably drive for the next few drop offs; or, if the weather fines up, go the long road again. And tonight I'll go to choir and sit with friends and drink too much red wine and sing loudly and swear outrageously as I tell the story and then someone will say something utterly ridiculous and we'll all laugh our heads off like those bold scary women we just love to be. As my eyes fill with tears, of laughter this time, the weight of anxiety pressing down on me will vanish like an evening mist; behind it, I'll find stars.

*We never did get that courier bike. We planned to buy it ready for this school year, but the older girls shot up so much over the summer that it was no longer worth it. My advice is don't leave it too late!


  1. Just got caught up on your blog entries from May and June. As always, loved every single one. Thank you.

  2. The times I lose my temper the most are when I am most afraid. A driver who brushed your daughter with his car because if his utter carelessness made you react violently in fear--and so it should have. I agree that holding onto the anger is unproductive, but I have no doubt that any parent in the same situation would have reacted similarly! Thank you for your raw honesty--always cuts to the bone of my pretence.

  3. Once I calm down, I just feel deeply, deeply sad that we live in a society where people don't value the common good or the safety of others - not even of children. The primary value appears to be to get ahead. Well, that's how I read it - perhaps there's another explanation!


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