Tag Archives: anger

Can Anger be a Positive Emotion?

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“Do not go gentle in to that Good Night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light”

These two verses by Dylan Thomas came in to my head the other night unbidden and would not leave. I had not read this poem written by Thomas about his dying father since high school. Yet, the verses echoed through my head. In order to quell the refrain, I went to find my battered and much beloved copy of The Norton’s Anthology of Poetry. To my great surprise, the book opened immediately to the page the poem was on, as if it knew just what I was looking for. God works in mysterious ways.

The Power of Anger

The Power of Anger

Reading the poem in its entirety, I burst into tears. Yes, I thought. This is how I feel. All around me the light seems to be dying, and I am angry. I am angry that in 2014, we have an African American president, yet black men are incarcerated and shot on the street by cops in ever increasing numbers. I am angry and scared that an epidemic like Ebola is killing so many in Africa and is making its way to our shores. And on a more personal level, I am angry that cancer can capriciously cut short a vivacious person’s life.

Life is not fair, and I am angry.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I am not good with anger as an emotion. In fact I hate it, I makes me uncomfortable. I don’t know how to control it or express it in a positive way.

As this refrain, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light” echoes in my head I realize that I have to do something, or it will tear me apart.

Meditation and prayer do not calmly disburse it.

Yelling at God through tears does not help either.

So, I have decided to embrace my anger. I am going to wear it proudly, and try to use it for good. God gave us anger to be a motivating force. The best social movements were started because people were angry about the status quo. Abraham angry at his father, rebelled against his culture and created a new religion. Moses angry at the mistreatment of Hebrew slaves led them out of Egypt. The daughters of Zelophechad, angry that they could not inherit their father’s property because they were women, petitioned Moses to change the law, and won. In modern times, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and African American civil rights would not have been won without righteous anger fueling the causes.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Instead of trying to carefully stomp it out the rage. I will use it to feed the light. Pirkei Avot teaches “You are not obligated to finish a task but neither are you free to neglect it.” I may not solve the problem of police brutality in America, or find the cure or Ebola. I may not be able to save my friend from cancer, but my anger will fuel me to keep trying to make the world a better place.

The absence of this anger would leave me with nothing. No will to move forward in the world. So for now, I am holding on to it in all of its fiery glory.

“Do not go gentle in to that Good Night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

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Posted on October 27, 2014

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The day I went to the Boston Marathon: from Inspiration to Anger

Yesterday, Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu posted a thoughtful and heartfelt prayer by our colleague, Rabbi Aaron Weininger in response to the attack at the Boston Marathon. I appreciate the words, and those of other colleagues who have created and shared words of prayer these past 24 hours.  I will, no doubt, share some of those words with my own congregation this coming Shabbat. But, I must be quite honest, today I don’t feel much like praying. Today I feel angry.

Photo by Aaron Tang

Photo by Aaron Tang

Yesterday was my first time being up close to the proceedings of a marathon in this country. A number of years ago, while I still lived in the UK, I spent several years volunteering with a first aid organization, the St. John’s Ambulance, and had the opportunity to assist at the London Marathon.  But this year, with my step-daughter volunteering as a guide to a participant with cerebral palsy, racing in a chair, we took advantage of the fact that we live just 5 miles from the starting line to cheer them on for the earlier parts of the race.

We arrived in Hopkinton early enough to spend some time with the Achilles team as they warmed up and prepared. It was nothing short of inspiring to see racers in chairs make sure that the custom-made works of art that they race in were reading for action; others have the use of prosthetic legs. Many are war veterans. I, whose crowning physical achievement was to build up to a 5km run for charity a couple of years ago, was humbled by the determination and dedication of the men and women racing, and their volunteer guides who enable those who need additional support to participate as equals.

We watched the first few waves of starts take off from Hopkinton, cheering on our team and many of the other mobility-impaired early starters. Then we made our way to Natick and were lucky enough to get another moment of cheering in as my step-daughter’s athlete and his team came by at around the 9 mile mark. We didn’t progress any further down the track, knowing that it would be challenging to get into Boston. I was in my car listening to NPR when I got the first news of the attack close to the finishing line.

I cannot stop thinking about the family waiting to cheer on a father, whose 8 year old son is never coming home. Mother and daughter are still contending with serious injuries. I cannot stop thinking about the spectators who were cheering on these inspirational runners one moment – many of whom have dedicated hundreds of hours as volunteers to support teams that raise thousands and thousands of dollars for charity – who today are dealing with the trauma of a lost limb.  In a split second the world has changed for these people. Yes, the world changes for many others too – the ones who were close by, the ones who waited with baited breath to hear from loved ones who might have been there. We are shaken too. But we are the lucky ones.

I am angry. I am incensed that someone or some group has caused such devastating harm.  Is this different from any other act of terror, or violent attack that kills and injures innocent bystanders?  Perhaps not. Perhaps it is on the heels of watching Senators play politics in the aftermath of the Newtown shooting that I find myself in a different mood this time around.  I’m not interested in gentle words or prayers. I remain inspired by those who helped in the moment of need, just as I was inspired by the athletes I met at the start of the day.  But I don’t simply wish to express my thanks for those who made a difference in the face of terror. I wish to express radical indignation that such random acts of callousness are committed by those who have the gall to believe they can justify turning the lives of others upside down.

I’m noticing these feelings arise, and I am not trying to keep them down today.  From what place do we garner strength and energy to act? Sometimes from prayer. But perhaps sometimes we need to get in touch with the anger, and we need to be willing to turn toward the images of torn limbs and bloodied bodies because this, too, can re-energize us to act differently. To truly treasure each day, to treasure each human interaction, to foster more caring and do even more in all the ways we live and act, because we have to counter hate with as much lovingkindness as we can.

And I pray, deeply I pray, that the authorities catch those responsible and bring the full weight of justice upon their heads.

Posted on April 17, 2013

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

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