God throws me into the mud,and I am reduced to dust and ashes. I cry out to you, O God, but you do not answer; I stand up, but you merely look at me. — Job 30:19-20
Last week I saw someone die, and while this occurrence is practically written into my job description, I feel something more strongly than I've felt in a long time: anger. I'm angry with God.
I see people die a lot. Some old, some young. Some white, some black, some brown, some olive. Some male, some female. Some have been sick for a long time, and some were up and walking only a few days before. Some are surrounded by countless friends and family, and some maybe have one person at their bedside. As my boss remarked earlier this week, my colleagues and I see what feels like 8,000 times more death than the average person. Somehow, your body learns how to cope with it, with the tears and the rumbling stomach, with waking up in the middle of the night to tend to a family... or two... or more. Even then, you never get used to it. At least I don't think you should. Death may be inevitable, but it still sucks.
Sometimes, however, it hits harder than usual. In the case of last week's events, I'm simply at a loss. Seeing this particular person in the bed brought to the surface more grief than I ever thought existed for me — grief for Nanny, for my biological father, for the man I spent so long trying to be but knew I never could, for the spouse and kids of the patient in question, for all the victims of senseless violence and human craving for power and control. Ounce after ounce, pound after pound, I felt it pile up and up and up. And I keep asking the same question...
Yesterday, in supervision, Bob (our new supervisor) was asking me about my anger and why I was trying to keep it so controlled. We talked about my tendency to idolize and pedestal Nanny, including the fact that she rarely, if ever, lashed out. Anger was not a color she wore very often. Then there's me. The truth is I have a lot of anger about a lot of things. I work very hard to keep it in check. I don't really know what to do with it most of the time. I don't know who it's directed at, and I don't know how to release it.
But the anger I feel now, well, I know where it's directed: God
Still, I don't know what good getting pissed off and lashing out at God would do. I can't make sense of much of what I've seen, and if I can't make sense of it, how am I supposed to respond when my patients or their family members look at me with some expectation of answers, solutions, and the like?!?! I shared all this with Bob, and somewhere in there I talked about wanting to strangle someone or something at times. This is why I believe some adults should still have stuffed animals. They can handle it.
Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything - anger, anxiety, or possessions - we cannot be free. ― Thích Nhất Hạnh
"What would happen if you strangled God?" Bob asked me. I sat there as a variety of expressions came across my face, several of which caused Bob to chuckle. Then, I had what may be one of my nerdiest epiphanies ever.
I thought of God as Captain Jack Harkness from Torchwood, a man who is able to die but ultimately comes back to life after each instance of dying. Captain Jack, since I first encountered him, has been one of my favorite science fiction characters. He's funny, flirty, handsome, smart, and kind, especially when he sees people in need, hurting, alone. There have been instances where Jack welcomed death, even though he knew he would come back to life. He welcomed it because he knew that the person inflicting it upon him needed to do so. They needed to release their rage, and quite frankly, he could handle it. Even though it hurt, especially when the method of killing was slow and agonizing, Jack would get this look on his face, as if to tell his killer, "It's okay."
I don't know if all this has a point except to let some of my own anger out. Captain Jack isn't here for me to strangle, and neither is God. Truthfully, I don't know that I could do it even if either of them were here in corporeal form before me. Perhaps it would be enough to have God see my anger and my sadness and say, "I get it. I feel it too." Maybe God would feel just as powerless as I do sometimes, just as sad. Maybe God would let me strangle him, let me lash out and let my rage surface in a wholly tangible act. Then, after reviving like Captain Jack, perhaps God would ask, "Do you need to do it again? Whatever you need, I can handle it."
photo credit: Patrick Feller (via Flickr)