A few weeks ago someone stole our grill. They parked their car at the end of our well-lit driveway, walked past our two parked cars, picked up the grill on the other side of the bedroom window behind our bed, shoved it into the trunk of their car, and drove away. It was 10:30pm and we had gone to bed five minutes earlier. The only sound the thief made was a thump as he tried to fit the grill in his trunk, alerting the dogs. Michael got up to look, saw the car, and only realized what had happened when he saw the wheels of our grill sticking out of the trunk as the thief drove away.
It was a $60 grill.
I was angry for days. I couldn’t believe someone would be so bold. I couldn’t believe the dogs didn’t bark earlier. I couldn’t believe we hadn’t heard anything.
I felt jumpy the next week. I kept the doors locked and the blinds open, and I watched every car and pedestrian that passed the house. I didn’t run or walk the dogs in my neighborhood. I signed up for daily emails listing robberies in my neighborhood. I felt suspicious and unsafe. What if he came back and tried to break into the house?
I wanted to get a shotgun and a pit bull and install cameras and floodlights around our house. I felt like the Clint Eastwood character in Gran Torino.
A few years ago someone stole the hanging flower baskets off our front porch. Michael left the ladder out one night and we saw the footprints the next morning through the backyard where someone had walked in from the alley and taken it. I was angry those times as well, but not like this. This was a seething, vengeful, pit-of-your-belly type of anger. I wanted to catch the thief and spit in his face. And worse.
I got over it, but it took awhile. It felt personal, but I was thankful it was only a cheap grill. It made me think, however, about why I felt so angry.
Years ago, when I was a single mom finishing up my college degree and living in student housing on campus, I came home with both kids and a few sacks of groceries. I took the kids and some bags upstairs to our apartment, and left the rest downstairs. When I came back the groceries were gone. Surprised, but not angry, I remember thinking to myself, “Well, someone must have needed that food more than me.” As I walked back upstairs, the hall director came running up the stairs with the missing groceries. He was prone to pranks.
There’s no way I would be that magnanimous today. Look how I reacted to someone taking our grill. What had changed?
What does this say about me, that stealing something stupid like a grill would make me want to go Rambo? And what does it say about our world, when you would risk jail time or getting shot over something that insignificant?
I was shocked when I started reading the police reports for my neighborhood. Apparently there are a lot of houses and cars being robbed. Even more alarming are the increasing numbers of armed robbery.
And it’s not just my neighborhood, it’s all over the city–and probably the entire country.
The guy who stole our grill was a pro. Stealing is his job. It was too dark to see the grill from the street, which means he had seen it earlier when the cars were gone and came back later when we turned out the lights.
Is this what happens when there aren’t enough jobs to go around? I doubt it. There always have been and always will be people who steal.
The worst part of this minor, insignificant incident was the way it suddenly made me feel distrustful and suspicious. Losing the grill was unimportant. Losing my feeling of safety was huge. I like to think that people are inherently good, and that if I’m careful and observant I’ll stay safe. Having something stolen, no matter how small, reminds me that there are others out there who are lost–and dangerous.
And this is perhaps what made me so angry, that my view of the world could be wrong. I’m not so naive as to imagine the world is like a Disney movie, where the good guys always win and the bad guys always get caught. I’ve known bad people. But knowing there are people who make their living by stealing and threatening and physically hurting others makes me angry. I want them to go away and be better people.
I read a report of an armed robbery a few blocks from my house. A man was walking back to his car from a restaurant and was accosted by two young men with a gun. They got angry because all he had was $23 in cash and an iPhone.
If you would hold a gun to someone’s head for $23, and be willing to take a life for an iPhone, then your own life must be worthless.
And that is truly heartbreaking, for all of us.
We all know anger. It rears its ugly head when you least expect it, and it bites faster than a rattlesnake on a hot afternoon in Texas.
A few mornings ago my running group met before work for our long run. We ran on a Friday instead of our usual Saturday morning because one of our members had a memorial service to attend the next day and we didn’t want her to have to run 16 miles on her own. We’re a tight group and that’s how we roll.
We met at the impossibly early hour of 5:30, but the weather was perfect. 58 degrees, no wind, and clear skies. There were four of us and the run was surprisingly tough, but mostly uneventful. We ran down to our local lake, did an extra 3 miles out and back, then ran the full 9 mile loop and back up to where we had started from. Since it was a work day there wasn’t the usual mob scene of runners and bikers vying for supremacy on the road and path. Everyone behaved themselves and the run was incident free.
Well, there was one small unintended incident, and it caused some anger.
Around mile 9 I realized I needed a bathroom break. At mile 10 I realized I had missed the port-a-potty. At mile 11.5 we suddenly spotted one and everyone came to a stop. We were tired, it was early, we had already run a long way, and we weren’t paying attention. Someone took a step over the dividing line on the path and almost got plowed down by a cyclist. I apologized for us, he started yelling, I mumbled under my breath thanks for letting us know you were there (because he didn’t say on your left as he passed) and he yelled back WELL, THANKS FOR LOOKING! We were in the wrong, we didn’t do it on purpose, it all happened very quickly–as most accidents do–and we had apologized.
I honestly only mumbled what I did because he started yelling at us, and I wasn’t mean about it. It was merely an observation.
This battle between cyclists and runners is an old one with no winners. Because he was dressed in a sweatshirt and plumber’s shorts (yes, it was gross) we knew he was probably just someone from the neighborhood and not a serious cyclist. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt because we should’ve paid more attention.
But my friend was so right when she made the comment as he rode away: People are SO ANGRY these days. It’s like everyone’s just a thread away from snapping.
I’ve been noticing the same thing a lot lately, too. All you have to do is look around wherever you go and you’ll see lots and lots of very angry people.
Now that I’m home during the day, I have much less stress in my life and my moods manage to stay fairly even keeled. (Usually. I’m not perfect, and I do live in Dallas.) But just driving a few miles up the road to the grocery store is like a violent video game come to life. People do the most ridiculous things from the anonymity of their cars, and most of it is just plain mean. And stupid. And sometimes dangerous.
The same friend who stepped in the path of the cyclist the other day has been telling us about the “psycho dads” she’s had to deal with this year (she works in a public elementary school). On three separate occasions in the past seven weeks of school she’s had fathers fly off the handle over small matters involving their children. In my last few years of teaching we all noticed that more and more often we were up against parents who liked to yell first, blame everyone else next, and ask questions later. It always involved something that didn’t warrant that level of anger–and they certainly weren’t setting a good example for their children, who usually stood by embarrassed because of the scene their parents were making.
Turn on the TV or internet these days and you’ll quickly see that this country has an anger problem. From politics to trashy talk shows to angry, rude comments on news websites, there’s a lot of anger out there.
What are we all so angry about?
There are all the usual reasons: work, stress, relationships, money, time, and so on. Those will never go away and anger will always exist. But can we really continue as a society if we don’t learn to keep our negative emotions in check? I don’t believe in pretending not to feel something that’s there, but I do think we must find better ways of dealing with our lives than indiscriminate anger.
And lest you think I’m sitting up here on my high horse, I’m just as guilty as everyone else. I’ve been known to say a few choice words under my breath while driving the streets of Dallas, and nothing can set me off more than someone who is purposely rude and mean. I grew up in a family filled with anger and I’m quick to become defensive and indignant when provoked. But I also make an effort to be considerate of others–even strangers–and to not make a fool of myself if I can help it.
When someone does something that makes me angry, like cut me off in traffic, I try to remind myself, that could be me, I’ve done that before, too. Or when I hold the door open for someone and they walk through without even a glance, I try to remind myself that I don’t need their thanks.
The bottom line is, all I can do is be aware of my own reactions and my own feelings of anger when they arise. I can’t change anyone, I can’t make them do anything, and getting angry about things usually doesn’t change them.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know the change has to begin with me.