Beliefnet

The sight of the buildings burning on TV. The smoke pouring out of the rows of windows. A body sailing in the air. The plane flying into the building, exploding. The building seeming to give like cloth.

The piles of dust and dust, debris and debris, faces coated with it, walking among the rubble, body parts everywhere under the dust. Human beings connected with a cell phone on a plane, a husband saying goodbye to a wife, a wife to a husband, knowing they are going to die.

The moment of acceleration before the plane hits the buildings, dives into the earth. The hundreds and hundreds of individual deaths: burned by fire, crushed, bones broken. Sailing in the air for dozens of seconds before landing--a choice of death better than burning, desperate choices. A moment before, drinking coffee, answering the phone, now, trapped on a rooftop, the heat from below, the fear, decision if it's going to end, end it myself--a couple holds hands and drops together through the air.

Such sights and sounds repeated over and again, on television, until the very seeing hides seeing--numbness quickly sets in. This is all a television show, a movie, a special effect: It is unreal, it is not normal. Then the platitudes: It's a new idea, a new era, this is Pearl Harbor, worse than Pearl Harbor, we are at war. The president speaks. The moments of silence. God Bless America, the familiar. This shall not stand. The anger: revenge, who did it, track them down, Osama bin Laden. Palestinian folk handing out candy on the street. Arab-Americans fearful, fights in high schools, insults, anger.

We dig in the rubble of our own hearts, looking for the feeling. When we understand the pain of individuals, we are touched--when we view the whole panorama abstractly, as televised images repeated, we lose touch. The spectacle erases the particular: the giant building, the huge plane, the enormous rubble. These images take over, and only when we are reminded of particular human suffering can we begin to feel again. Our fear begins, then in time our fear is layered over in dust. We too are buried under the rubble of our everyday lives. We don't want to feel, don't want to know.

But we are afraid and also, at the sight of death, we are angry. We cannot help being angry. We do not yet know the enemy, but we already have an enemy because anger needs an object It is impossible to sustain our anger without an object.

Yes, anger is normal, healthy in the sense that it is not numbness. Anger, rage at our helplessness, fear, these are normal responses. The desire to help, to give blood, give money, to come up with answers, to rally behind political leaders--all this is normal. But is the anger good as a long-term condition?

Those who live in anger, whose consciousness is daily stewed in it, over time are damaged. We know this physiologically, we know this psychologically. We need to understand it spiritually. At the physiological level a constant state of anger is bad for the heart. Anger produces toxins and poisons, irritants in the blood.

At the psychological level, anger is a feedback loop. Anger produces anger. There is no evidence that "releasing" or "expressing" anger relieves it--that is based on the metaphor of anger as a kind of steam pressure that builds up. But this does not fit experience: Those who use angry words, conjure up angry images, get angrier and angrier. Their consciousness becomes steeped in anger.

At the wisdom level, anger and realism are not compatible. The angry person is convinced there is only one way of seeing a situation. An angry person is out of touch with reality in the sense of being out of touch with the wholeness of life, with the interconnectedness of life. An angry person stands outside that interconnectedness, that web of life, and sees all that belongs with him on one side, and all that threatens him on the other. It is the world of dualism, us and them--magnified and intensified.

Anger is preoccupying. Anger takes over consciousness. Anger sees more causes for anger everywhere it looks. Anger is self-satisfied and self-justifying, anger is righteous and right. And so anger becomes a god; that is, anger controls the person's every action and every perception. Anger's knowledge pretends it is omniscient, anger's power pretends it is omnipotent over the individual possessed by anger, as a person in a trance is possessed by a deity. This is why the Talmudic sages equated anger with idolatry. "Regard," they said, an angry person "as an idolater, because such are the wiles of the Tempter: Today he says to him, 'do this,' tomorrow he tells him, do that" until he bids him, "Go and serve idols" and he goes and serves them (Shabbat 105b). Anger replaces judgment. It is so overwhelming that it comes between the person and the divine.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus