By Kathleen Hoy Foley
I am very familiar with angry women. My mother was angry. Spittin’ angry, in fact. For the uninformed, spittin’ angry ranks high up there on the woman’s rage scale…next step involves the commission of a crime. Say walloping some annoying shopper across the face in a grocery store parking lot. That’s where my mother’s anger drove her. And worse. Dumb luck and the fact that she just looked like a sweet, little old lady was all that stood between her and jail time. I wish I was exaggerating. I’m not. Last week I unexpectedly encountered another spittin’ angry woman courting criminal misdeeds. Bodily harm to be exact. Spittin’ Angry Woman wielded a shovel and threatened to beat me up with it. Whattttt?????
All of us are well acquainted with anger of the messy variety. But when stripped down to its purity and directed toward improvements and solutions, anger is a powerful motivating force capable of provoking necessary change and propelling light into darkened corners where evil hides. Starved of emotional reaction to fuel its combustion, freed from accompanying turbulence, anger is a laser beam of potent energy that can drill down to the truth with focused precision. Used intelligently and efficiently, anger is a magnificent tool.
Unrestrained and chaotic, however, anger is nothing more than a temper tantrum any two year old could throw. Only the consequences for a toddler are minor. A few minutes of settling down time. And the drone of a sensible grownup trying to explain the advantages of being nice. But with adults, uncontrolled anger can ruin relationships and destroy families. Angry adults crush their own heart’s desires. My mother called it biting off your nose to spite your face. Angry people litter society with seeds of anger that trail in their wakes. And those seeds take root. And then you have a spittin’ angry woman and her temper wrecking a beautiful spring day.
And that’s what it was, a gorgeous spring morning…
Out for a brisk walk, plugged into my own rock and roll world, suddenly I collided with the exact combination of energetic circumstances necessary for a spittin’ angry woman to indulge her rage. Rage that was primed to explode long before—days, weeks, months, years—I rounded the corner and stumbled into her world. Her trigger is unimportant. It could have been anything at all. I was simply the convenient match that ignited her internal inferno already waiting and looking for a reason to blow.
She was a nondescript, grandmotherly woman laying down mulch, grooming her flower beds. But in an instant while surrounded by the soft glow of a spring morning, she switched from gardener to mad woman and turned the shovel she was holding into a weapon. And at that moment in time, for reasons rooted far deeper than she would probably ever acknowledge, Spittin’ Angry Woman set in motion a chain of events that easily could have ended in bloodshed and handcuffs.
Anger poisoned my mother’s life—her artistry, her relationships, her feelings about herself. Supremely creative with an innate sense of color and balance, my mother was so often consumed by inner rage and hatred that it crippled her from blossoming into the remarkable woman she was meant to be. With age, her anger only intensified, hardening further her heart to love and kindness, keeping her prisoner inside its lies. My mother’s anger forbid love.
A connection exists between elder women and rage that leads directly to underground wellsprings of throbbing anguish and pulsating trauma, and clawing monsters that continue to roam their pasts. Monsters powerful enough to burst into the present dragging with them chaos and violence. My mom was a victim of violence and terror. Trauma and panic controlled her life, protected the small, hurting child huddling in the bleak corners of her past. Spittin’ angry women lug around unnamed demons ready at a moment’s notice to attack. Maybe mistaking anger for courage in the way that my mother did. Spittin’ angry women—hurting child-women—don’t understand that courage constructs, it does not destroy.
Authentic power rises from truth. True courage lies in generating the energy to go on the difficult quest for the haunting, unspoken truths buried beneath the urge to explode. Anger is a symptom of pain that intensifies with age as our perceived power to control our lives decreases. Anger and the trauma driving it are resolvable at any age. And with the resolution of trauma, anger wilts and a brand new life blooms. A life where creativity flourishes. Where love thrives. And relationships can heal. Where a gorgeous spring day is pure celebration. And a lawn is sweetened under the balm of tender attention and the appreciation of a stranger passing by.
Dementia finally blunted by mother’s anger and along with it, her capacity to experience joy. I know where Spittin’ Angry Woman and her shovel are headed. Remember that shopper in the parking lot? I’ll be keeping to the opposite side of the road.