Anger is often nothing more than a hasty judgment registered as a nasty emotion. Anger can result from a failure to acknowledge the full narrative sweep of life, how events unfold, how characters develop, how interpretations fail. One of my favorite parables outside the gospel has to do with a friend of my wife who probed a single mystery among the many that formed her small rural community. What she found, in the end, was simply more mystery.
The friend was living way out in Victory, Vermont, a remote township with the double distinction of being perched above a bog and of being the last place in the state to receive electricity. During the course of learning her master’s degree, this friend found it necessary to commute several times a week from Victory to the state university in Burlington, a good hundred miles away. Coming home late at night, she would see an old man sitting by the side of the road. He was always there, in subzero temperatures, in stormy weather, no matter how late she returned. He made no acknowledgement of her passing. The snow settled on his cap and shoulders as if he were merely another gnarled old tree.
She often wondered what brought him to that same spot every evening-what stubborn habit, private grief, or mental disorder. I wonder if she didn’t sometimes begin to doubt her senses, or believe in ghosts.
Finally, she asked a neighbor of hers, “Have you ever seen an old man who sits by the road late at night?”
“Oh, yes,” said her neighbor, “many times.”
“Is he…a little touched upstairs? Does he ever go home?”
“He’s no more touched than you or me,” her neighbor laughed. “And he goes home right after you do. You see, he doesn’t like the idea of you driving by yourself out late all alone on these back roads, so every night he walks out to wait for you. When he sees your taillights disappear around the bend, and he knows you’re okay, he goes home to bed.”
I can think of several ridiculous places to take a story like this…All we can say in light of this story…is that folly comes of pretending to know the world better than it can actually be known. Anger can be one form of that folly. Anger can amount to a bitter certainty that admits to no surprise. Anger is like a young man who takes every flirtation as evidence that women are laughing at him. To expect no surprises is to give no quarter, show no faith, have no fun.
From Garrett Keizer’s The Enigma of Anger: Essays on a Sometimes Deadly Sin pg. 325-326