Cliches irritate me. So do platitudes. And I’ve heard a lot of them since our son passed away. They persist, though, because of a certain veracity. In the past few weeks, one phrase has resonated.
Life is too short to stay angry.
The night before Kai passed away, I watched a movie with his older sister. She had just finished reading “Romeo & Juliet” so we rented the Baz Luhrmann version with Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes. It’s a bizarre take on it but I thought our then 14-year-old would appreciate the cool visuals and contemporary music. Kai wasn’t interested in the movie, whatsoever, and kept coming into the living room to bug us by making noises. Twelve year old boys cultivate their annoying noises repertoire and Kai’s was legendary.
We kept snapping at him to go away, be quiet, knock it off. Finally, I yelled, really yelled, with Angry Mommy Face, “THAT. IS. ENOUGH.” He slunk away and didn’t come back to bother us again. We watched the rest of that completely bizarre movie in silence.
In retrospect, I can see that he just wanted to be with us. He was jealous, probably, that I was hanging out with Emily. We invited him to watch with us, wanted him to watch, but really, what preteen boy has any interest in Romeo & Juliet? He felt left out. I did apologize to Kai later that night for yelling, but apologies don’t rewind time or undo angry words. So many times since he’s passed, I’ve asked Kai again to forgive me. I know he has. I’m just struggling to accept his forgiveness.
The irony of that scene with my son, that I’ve played over a hundred times now, is sharp. In Shakespeare’s story, two teenagers die because their families are angry over small offenses that escalated. I didn’t have to yell at Kai. I shouldn’t have let my anger get to that place. But I did. I’m not blaming that argument for Kai’s death, and there were plenty of other times I snapped at my preteen because he was acting like an annoying preteen. What I will never be able to change is the horribly unfortunate timing of a horribly stupid exchange.
In the New Testament, anger is mentioned multiple times. Christ himself was angry, white-hot angry, in that famous flipping-the-temple-tables scene. As a second grader in Sunday school, I would picture Jesus transforming into The Incredible Hulk and smashing the folding tables in the church hall with massive, green fists. I’m pretty sure that’s not how it actually went down, but I liked the visual of His righteous rage, and of Lou Ferrigno as Jesus Christ.
As an adult, I understand what was happening. Jesus was angry that His Father’s house, the temple, had become The Mall of Jerusalem. Even though his anger flared, and even though He acted on it, Christ didn’t cultivate his anger over days and weeks. He didn’t practice angry rebuttals while driving in the car, or compose multiple, snarky emails he may or may not have sent. Jesus’ teachings, and Paul’s discussions in the epistles, warn about holding on to anger. They warn that nursing an offense, at its core, is choosing not to forgive.
“Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:30-32
Jesus knew His time on earth was short. The early Church, and Paul especially, thought Christ’s return was imminent. They had X amount of time. There was no room for the division anger causes. They understood wounds very possibly wouldn’t have time to heal.
Recently, some very angry words were exchanged within our extended family at a time when everyone was feeling particularly vulnerable. The shields were down on the Starship Enterprise and some major damage was sustained. Hurt continues to linger. Reconciliation feels impossible.
I’m not angry about it. I know, so acutely, that life is too short to hold on to anger. We assume there will be time for apologies, for forgiveness, for healing. Most of the time, we will have that opportunity. Most of the time. And sometimes we learn, in the most harrowing of ways, that time doesn’t belong to us, and there are no more days.