As you probably know by now, one of my favorite poets is A.E. Housman. And his whole outlook is summed up rather neatly inA these four lines:
“The troubles of our proud and angry dust
Are from eternity, and shall not fail.
Bear them we can, and, if we can, we must –
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale.”
For those of you who prefer more simple statements, what he’s saying is that we are not the first, and won’t be the last, to suffer through this life – and that all we can do is try to make the best of it.
But I particularly like that jolting phrase, “angry dust.” That’s all we are, is dust. And what’s the point of dust being angry? Angry at whom or what? Presumably at whatever has placed us humans in this predicament.
But there is also that word “proud” – and I’m proud to say that I personally do not get angry. To me, it’s a pointless emotion. Maybe I owe this to my parents, with whom just the raising of the voice was about as far as anger generally went – and I myself never even do that. There may be some point in being hopeful or fearful – but anger, in itself, gets you nowhere – although it may generate some useful action. It may take angry people to stage rebellions which are, at least sometimes, justified. But it is also anger whose next stage is violence, which can lead to wars so prolonged that people forget what they are fighting about.
How then do I handle my own feelings of anger? (For of course, we all have them.) Fortunately, I have the gift of verbal expression, which means that I can write about whatever it is that has happened, and how I feel about it. That in itself is often enough to dispel the emotion, and I can put it away, and don’t have to do anything further with it. But the next stage, if necessary, is to put it in the form of a letter to whomever is concerned. Here however we must be careful. I’m reminded of a cautionary ditty:
Lives of great men all remind us
Of a lesson we can learn –
We should never leave behind us
Letters that we ought to burn.
And if you must send a letter of complaint or criticism, be gentle. Being fierce will probably only get you a fierce response. But why am I telling you what you’ve probably been hearing, in one form or another, all your life – that “A soft answer turneth away wrath” – that “Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord” – (which appears in both the Old and New Testaments)?
Speaking of vengeance, it seems significant that our language has come to equate the word “angry” with the word “mad,” which, of course, can, and often does, mean “insane.” You’ve probably heard the expression “Don’t get mad – get even,” which I take to be an argument for vengeance. And even the thirst for revenge can be a kind of insanity – sometimes getting passed down from generation to generation, over some “wrong” so far in the past that its details may have been forgotten.
But we mustn’t forget that you can also be “madly in love” – and nobody who’s ever had that kind of experience will deny that it is a form of insanity. Then of course you can be mad with jealousy – but let’s not get into that.
I happen to be the not so proud owner of a book called Get Even: The Complete Book of Dirty Tricks, by a no-doubt-pseudonymous “George Hayduke.” I’m not sure why a gentle person like yours truly ever even purchased such an evil book. But it does contain some wickedly memorable ideas for getting back at people whom you feel have done you wrong. Here’s just one example: when you know that your victim, whom Hayduke always refers to as “The Mark,” is not at home, and when his house happens to have a mail-slot and an accessible nearby hose in the front yard, simply insert the hose through the slot, and turn the faucet on.
The same book has many more such nasty suggestions – but I hope you are appalled by the above, and agree with me that revenge is a shameful motivation, and not so “sweet” as some would have you believe. To me, the sweetest form of revenge is to make your enemy your friend.