I don’t know what it is about Fridays, but it seems to be the day when I tip myself out in front of God and reset my peace of mind. Today, I had a long conversation with God after my midday prayer, and came clean about a couple of things.
I am an angry person. I have unchecked anger issues. Every day, I drive to Euston and back. Every day, I have a(t least one) silent experience of road rage, ranging from mild irritation to imagining super powers for myself and my car which would allow me to suspend offending vehicles and their owners in the air and fling them into space, while I laugh at them smugly and drive away. The trigger moments pass, but my anger often lingers, often fuelling a mental replay of the offence but with my preferred ending now inserted – where I win and totally humiliate the other driver. I am often surprised how frequently my silent rage is triggered. I often have a Qur’an recitation on while I am driving – thank God – which keeps me relatively calm and prevents me from swearing out loud or making rude gestures, but it doesn’t eliminate the anger; it just simmers inside me, and as it stews its juices thicken and become more potent. There is a residual amount left inside me, which sometimes interferes with my peace of mind the following day.
I didn’t realise the impact of this on me until last night, when another incident on the road left me fuming; I then came home and vented some of my anger by pressing on the doorbell furiously as I’d left my keys at home. When my brother opened the door and asked with concern what was wrong (nothing, I had to answer sheepishly – he was not impressed at all), I knew then that I had to deal with this.
I had to admit to myself that my anger was caused by frustration at not being able to stand up for myself in that moment of conflict with another driver (as I perceived it); the lost opportunity to get back at them. What drove me mad was the thought that somebody else believed that they had got away with trumping (and Trumping, if you take that to mean being a douchebag) me on the road, and I could do nothing about it. Sitting underneath that is my fundamental fear that I am weak, and people take advantage of that.
This is, of course, a story created by me. It is not declared anywhere in the universe that I am weak, nor that anybody else is stronger than me. It’s just me allowing my fear to get an airing and manipulate me. And the result is anger that damages me and can adversely impact people who are close to me.
I was wondering how to tackle this, what to do to help myself besides pray to God and be straight about how much anger I was carrying as a casual habit. Suddenly, I thought of the Qur’anic description of people who are angry (specifically referring to the hypocrites who are trying to foil the delivery of God’s message): they ‘bite the tips of their fingers off with rage’¹. It’s such a graphic, unsettling image, and it stopped me in its accuracy. That’s exactly what anger does: it makes you implode in on yourself, because your rage has nowhere else to go; it’s self-destructive and self-consuming. I realised that I don’t want to fit that description.
It dawned on me that every day when I go for my drive, I am being tested – I just didn’t see that. I know there are going to be idiots on the road, slow drivers, roadblocks, and they’re just waiting for me to explode into fury; they goad my need to prove my ‘not smallness’ to myself, because that’s my hidden fear, and I fall for it. The idiot in the other car probably has the same thing going on, and he may just have a bigger car with a more powerful engine to allow him to hide that from himself. But my fear is inside my head; I am the source of my anger, and when I give into that, I lose the opportunity to be generous and forgive. Also, I fail the test when I succumb into anger at the smallest things, when in reality, when I stand back, my greatest concerns at that time are going out to give food to people who need it, and getting back safely to my family.
In giving in to anger and my fear, I have been lacking generosity and patience. Generosity would allow me to forgive. Patience would let me sit back and ride through this daily test, and think instead about the bigger picture of why I’m out, and what I’m going back to – and also not give in to hanger, which makes me highly irritable and irritating. These little skirmishes on the road are not a test of bravery or strength, nor are they unavoidable battles. Anger is a vehicle for fear.
I shared this with God today, and prayed for generosity in myself, towards all people. It must have cleared something in my frame of mind, because when I went out today to distribute food, not only was the drive much more peaceful, when I went to hand out food, it was gone in minutes – and for the last week or so, it’s been really hard sometimes. I told myself something was getting in the way of me being able to give as I wanted to, and today I understood that it was me.
¹ Qur’an 3:119