Thursday, January 24, 2013

Prisoner of Anger

For the past few weeks there has been a guest sleeping on my living room floor. He was invited by my roommate who was being a good samaritan. Well as the saying goes: no good deed goes unpunished.

The guest has consumed almost all of my roommate's liquor, pills, vitamins. He leaves food out, doesn't put things in the dishwasher, smokes, and drinks himself into oblivion. When I come home every evening he is there at the kitchen table eating noxious smelling beef and pork concoctions. The house guest is fond of spouting theories that are half-backed, conspiratorial fear-based, bigoted, homophobic, misogynistic, anti-semitic. He was finally given the get-out date next week but then we moved it up a few days.

Tonight we were promised the house to ourselves. I looked forward to coming home for the first time in weeks. I imagined cooking in washed pots, clean counters, and being able to use the kitchen table. I had just finished the rough draft of a new play and I was feeling at ease. And when I open the door, there HE is. Sitting at the table with a cup of cheap rum and hoagie loaf overflowing with diarrhetic-looking sloppy joe meat with bacon splinters.

I made a b-line to my bedroom and was set on staying there the entire night. But I felt uncomfortable not confronting the issue: why has this situation appeared in my life at this point in time?

I went back outside and sat on the couch. His glazed-over eyes looked at me as he asked me about my day. I avoided eye contact as I could feel the anger settling somewhere squarely between my eyebrows. Finally after struggling mightily, my eyes were able to meet his with the question: what are you doing here and when are you leaving?

The houseguest began retelling the story of how his wife kicked him out of the house and filed a restraining order against him.  I've heard this several times and each time the vows of revenge get stronger. I expressed my discomfort with his revenge obsession and he informed me that he had been deeply wronged. I listened and didn't interrupt him despite knowing almost all the details. I recalled Hafiz's famous poem...

"Fear is the smallest room in the house
And I wish to see you living in better conditions."

And I realized that I have been living in fear of this man who I saw as the epitome of toxic hate. The fear wasn't obvious but it showed itself enough on all the nights I delayed going home. My eyes couldn't even meet his when we first spoke. All I saw was hate, meat, alcohol, revenge.

We spoke. As the conversation continued I found I could hold my gaze on him as a brother. He felt wronged. I understood. He wanted revenge and I have been there. I recommended Thicht Nhat Hanh's 'Anger' since this was a book that changed my life years ago. He seemed skeptical. He didn't need to transform his anger, he said. He could use it and be smart so he wouldn't end up in prison.

"But you're already a prisoner," I said.

Through the dimly-cracked eyes he looked at me.

"You've made yourself a prisoner of anger," I said, speaking as much to myself as to him.

He seemed to get quiet and a flash of recognition crossed his face. He admitted it. Why do that, why chain yourself to this?

The houseguest launched into the family excuse: it was in his blood. It was in his people's blood. They needed revenge. His DNA was different. He couldn't be like the Tibetans, or the Blacks during the civil rights movement, the South Africans during apartheid, the Jews after the Holocaust, or the Indians against the British.

I suggested that DNA wasn't stone tablets of fate but merely antennae that pick up signals. But it's my choice to turn the channel.  He seemed taken aback. No, he must have revenge. Finally I spoke to that mythical tragic emotion. If you want to talk about revenge, the best revenge isn't served hot or cold. It isn't served at all. The best revenge is to live your life. Someone tries to destroy you, the best revenge isn't to destroy them but to thrive.

Imagine transformation. Better wife, house, car, and you suddenly realize that you haven't even thought about her. Now that is revenge because it isn't even revenge. It's quantum-revenge where you take it to the next level: it transforms you into a parallel universe of options.

I was just as shocked as he was that this was coming out of my mouth. I've never thought about this before. He tapped my foot.

"That's the best thing I've heard in weeks." I concur. Thank you to whomever thought it and poured it into my head. Tonight I walked in a prisoner and left a free man. And maybe my houseguest did as well.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Powerful words and actions! POWERFUL!