It would never have occurred to me
It’s Saturday, 31 August, 2019. I recently had an interesting text chat with a guy who read my blog and had some insights to share. He pointed out something that was totally unexpected to me. He said he noticed I never got angry, even in the beginning when I learned about the cancer. Really? It would never have occurred to me to get angry. I got the impression the guy felt anger was necessary, like part of a cancer 12-step program. (Is the such a thing?) But angry at whom? God? Even if there is a God, He’s done such unthinkable and horrific things to humanity that getting angry over something as minor as my cancer seems pointless. At my doctor? He didn’t give me cancer. At the world? Society? Monsanto?
Let’s face it, shit happens. I could have crashed my car, lost my lunch money or fallen in love. That shit happens too. But cancer is the shit that’s happening to me right now. It just is. That doesn’t call for anger. It calls for strength.
It’s important to remember that you can’t just go around blowing a gasket every time something rubs you the wrong way. You’ll ruin your health and your relationships. Granted, there are times, albeit rarely, when anger is justified. And I do get angry sometimes. But I channel my anger toward its source, like the idiot who runs a red light and hits my car or the malicious liar who spreads untrue rumors about me. Now, if the stories are true, that’s another thing. That’s not really gossip. It’s…reporting.
Thing is, when I look for the source of my anger most of the time I find it’s me. It’s my attitude. My impatience. My refusal to listen and understand. Anger is a lazy emotion. It’s a cop out. When something bad happens too often we react rather than breathe. Be honest. When was the last time you got angry about an irksome situation and things turned out better than they probably would have if you’d remained calm? That’s right, irksome. I said it. Google it. It’s the right word.
With all that, I posit that misplaced anger is counterproductive, even destructive. Hurtful words are uttered in anger. Regrettable acts are carried out in anger. People murder people in anger! And anger isn’t natural. Check it out. The next time you see somebody who is really mad, look at their face. Really look at it. They probably look very scary. As an aside, isn’t it interesting that the word mad, meaning insane, has become synonymous with angry? Anyway, that angry face is not one humans were meant to make. What their face is telling you is, “Right now I’m dangerous and I’m not approachable. Don’t try to reason with me.” But sadly, that is the very moment they need to stop and breathe, before they do or say something regrettable.
What would you call that reaction?
So, if anger is not an appropriate response to the news you have cancer, what is? I don’t know. I’m asking.
In my case, I guess it was shock mixed with disbelief and a little humor. But now that I think about it, that’s pretty much how I respond to life every day. I recall I was sitting in the examining room with my dad. My oncologist was pointing at the computer monitor showing us graphs and spewing off 25-cent words. I listened intently, trying to extract anything from what she was saying that might give me a hint as to where she was headed. At some point she got there. “Blah blah blah, so it’s cancer already, blah blah blah…”. I wasn’t sure I’d heard what I thought I’d heard. I scanned the room for reactions. Along with me, my dad and the oncologist, there were three other people in the room. My oncologist’s posse I suppose. Their faces remained stiff and professional, not betraying their emotions. They were of no help.
The talking continued for a few more minutes, then the oncologist said, “So let’s talk about treatment. We need to decide when to start chemo.” That’s when I knew I heard what I thought I heard. “Shit, this is for real. I have cancer.” After a few minutes, as we were wrapping up, it had sunk in. I looked around the room to make sure nobody was looking at me. The oncologist and her band of merry men were busy doing geometry or something with the numbers on the monitor, and my dad was standing behind me. The coast was clear. I did it. I cried a little. Just a few tears. You know, like the tears you release at the movies when the girl dies and the boy breaks down. But it’s safe because it’s dark in the theater and nobody knows. Anyway, I quickly composed myself and told a joke. Redemption! I got the room to laugh. And so it was.
What would you call that reaction? I don’t know. But whatever it was, it wasn’t anger. Still, who knows, maybe I’m angry inside and it hasn’t come out yet. So tread lightly. In the words of the irascible Bruce Banner before he morphs into The Incredible Hulk, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry!”