“Anger is one of the most difficult defilements to overcome … When I was a young monk I gave many sermons on anger and how to control it even as my own anger caused me to lose my temper repeatedly. I’m calling it ‘my’ anger, but that isn’t quite right. Anger would invade my mind and overwhelm me, and I let it do that despite the fact that inevitably made me feel miserable. When I was angry, I felt pain in my chest and burning in my stomach. My eyesight blurred, my reasoning was unclear, and ugly, harsh words came out of my mouth. After I calmed down, always feeling ashamed and foolish, I would reflect on the Buddha’s words about anger: ‘One should give up anger, renounce pride, and overcome all fetters. Suffering never befalls him who clings not to mind and body and is detached.’” Bhante Gunaratana, in the current issue of Tricycle Magazine.
Along with my sorrow, I’ve been waging a mighty struggle with anger these past couple of weeks. Those of you who have been reading for a while may remember my blog entries on the Precepts and on nonviolence last spring as our nation was preparing to go to war. I really do believe that giving in to anger is like grabbing the Tar Baby – all it gets you is more anger, all it does is put more anger out there into the world. And goodness knows there’s enough of that.
But it’s been a mighty struggle these past weeks – Patrick’s landlord has gone out of his way to be difficult, and yesterday I discovered that although I’d spoken to him on the phone right after Patrick died, and had assured him I’d pay the October rent, and that no, I did not want him to empty the apartment and store Patrick’s belongings; after explaining that this was the second brother I’ve lost, and that as a child I’d found it very disturbing to come home and find Michael’s room cleaned out, that I’d need some time to go through Patrick’s things; after he agreed to leave Patrick’s things alone, yesterday I discovered that on October 2nd, as I was flying home to Chicago with Patrick’s ashes, this man was calling the utilities and taking valuables out of Patrick’s apartment in an attempt to take advantage of a legal loophole and attempt an eviction. I’ve been dealing with this situation since I got home, but somehow, finding out from the gas company that the day after Patrick’s Livingston funeral this guy was on the phone plotting against me was deeply upsetting. I wanted to march over there and confront him, ask him why he would be so cruel, why he would assume I wouldn’t meet Patrick’s obligations, why had he badgered me about cleaning out the apartment, why had he insisted on showing the apartment before we had it cleaned out, why he’d violated my grief and privacy like that, parading strangers through dead Patrick’s apartment? Why?
But my anger at the landlord is easy compared to my anger at the Nice Girlfriend, who turned out not to be so nice after all. The not-so-Nice Girlfriend who Patrick broke up with in early August after discovering that her ex-husband, the one who stole the bed, the one who has been known to beat up total strangers in local restaurants, the one who threatened to beat Patrick up all winter, had spent the night in her new bed. The not-so-Nice Girlfriend who broke Patrick’s heart, who caused him to spend his last six weeks on earth unable to sleep, or eat, or think straight. Who caused me to worry every morning if he was ten minutes late to pick up the dogs that he might have killed himself, and who caused him to promise me he wouldn’t do that. The not-so-Nice Girlfriend who we ran into three times that last Friday night, and who Patrick was still nice to because he loved her, and he had to work with her, and he was a nice guy. The not-so-Nice Girlfriend who, if she’d been half the girlfriend Patrick deserved, wouldn’t have broken his heart, wouldn’t have left him so unable to face his empty apartment that he offered to drive Parks out to his place ten miles up the Cokedale Road, a bad gravel road outside of town. The not-so-Nice Girlfriend who came by to bring me a check for the work Patrick had done for her, and who stood in my living room wearing her ex-husband’s wedding ring and welling up in tears, telling me how much she missed Patrick while I held my breath and gave her the bum’s rush because I didn’t even know what to do with my shock that she would wear his ring to my house.
The landlord is a piece of cake compared to her.
But as tempting as it is to lose my temper with both of these people, as much as it sometimes seems that getting all righteous and making a scene would show them, I know it wouldn’t. I grew up with a mother who loves nothing more than righteous indignation, who picked really virulent fights with my father for years and years after their divorce, who has been known to vent her righteous anger at me, to chase me through the house in order to impress upon me the sins of my character. My mother has been venting her anger pretty continuously for as long as I can remember, and it hasn’t done anything but make her an incrementally more angry and hostile person. Making a scene isn’t going to change this bully of a landlord. Making the not-so-Nice Girlfriend feel even worse than she already does about Patrick’s death isn’t going to make me feel better, or somehow magically turn back the clock and keep Patrick from getting in that car when he was in no condition to drive. Making a scene isn’t even going to make me feel any better – it’ll just make me feel even more jangly and upset than I already do.
So what’s a girl to do? The only answer I can come up with is to sit. To take refuge. To breathe in and out and have faith that all those clear-faced Buddhist teachers in the pages of Tricycle are right, that if you sit, if you breathe, if you work at being mindful, you can get to that clear space on the far side of all this anger and sorrow and heartbreak.
Of course, yesterday afternoon after the horrible insulting letter from the landlord and the terrible checks closing out Patrick’s accounts that had to be deposited, yesterday afternoon when I was racked with sobs on the livingroom floor with the dogs, I must admit that a little xanax helped with the immediate terror and sorrow. A little xanax, and then a walk along the river with Maryanne and the dogs, the sight of the Crazy Mountains in the late-afternoon sunlight and a bald eagle flying up the Yellowstone.