I’m going to tell you something you already know: it’s easier to be angry than it is to feel sad. It is harder still to acknowledge the fear that lies behind both the sadness and the anger without becoming entangled in it and letting it take over. And the most challenging scenario I’ve yet encountered is when the fear and anger and sadness spring from incidents that involve my children. There is a certain intensity to the feeling, the difference between a freshly-honed butcher knife and the paring knife you’ve used for everything from slicing apples to cutting bread to peeling cucumbers. That sharp edge makes all the difference and it gleams in the light.
Even though fear underlies both sadness and anger, the anger comes with a drive to act, a sense that I can do something to mitigate or repair or eradicate. It feels like a positive force, propelling me forward. The sadness feels like a pit, a low spot in the landscape where I have to just sit and see my limited view of the horizon for a while. That feels hopeless and helpless, especially when it comes on behalf of someone else, someone who will benefit more from quiet compassion and understanding than any action I could possibly take. I am much more comfortable being the Mama Bear, putting out a forearm to block incoming trouble and uttering a frightening roar because it feels proactive and empowering. Sitting in that ditch with my kid while she sobs is not so satisfying.
If I were a caveperson, I would understand. Sitting in that sad pit will get you eaten. Injury to the soul is of little consequence when you aren’t sure whether or not you will find a meal or be the meal. And so I suppose it is a consequence of our relatively luxurious life that I can feel so acutely the emotional pain of my children and long for a solution that will instantly make things different, or at least one that will give me the illusion of control. But the backdrop of luxury doesn’t make my heart hurt any less. And reminding my kids that they’re not the only one this has ever happened to doesn’t make their hearts hurt any less. It is nice to know you’re not alone, but it sucks to know that you still have to make your way through the hurt in your own way, in your own time, no matter how many people have been there before and how many others are sitting cross-legged in that damn pit with you.
And as a mother, it is far more difficult to watch my children make their way through, in fits and starts, with frustration and doubt and, sometimes, utter desolation, and know there isn’t a damn thing I can do but love them and love them and love them until my heart feels like it will burst with a single touch. As I walked the dog this morning I wished for anger, for someone or something to project my fears onto because holding this emotion is exhausting and anger is exhilarating in its power, even if it is often destructive. Anger feels galvanizing, strengthening, and when I go all Mama Bear, I am certain my kids know I’ve got their backs and it feels good to express it publicly. Telling them quietly that I acknowledge their pain and sadness and letting them see my sadness feels supportive but falls flat because it doesn’t have all the attendant bells and whistles of action. It isn't necessarily in my nature to choose the easy way out but, man, do I really want to sometimes.