According to the Mishna (the book of Rabbinic commentary from the 3rd century), strength is defined as the ability to control one’s emotions. My guess is that the Rabbis really only had one emotion in mind, anger. The others are fine fully-ex
pressed: exuberant laughing from unadulterated joy, or uncontrollable sobbing from deeply-felt, pent-up pain. Hell, those are good for you. (And jealousy doesn’t count because there’s a specific Commandment that addresses it.) But anger is different. No matter what it’s origin — after all, sometimes (perhaps most of the time) it’s just a manifestation of hurt — anger acted out can do real damage. Even if the acting out comes in the form of “just” words.
To be sure, keeping it all in can corrode & build resentment. But finding a calm way to communicate the feeling will enable it to be constructively heard. Unfortunately, a few nights ago, I didn’t maintain the proper balance; I was aware of the Rabbinic adage, but simply not able to execute it. Of course it was family. Isn’t it always? In our professional relations, we insist on proper decorum. Verbal outbursts or ALL CAP e-mails are grounds for termination. But we can’t quit blood relations. (As for silent cut-off’s, according to Dr. Cambor, they’re simply an intense form of an on-going engagement.)
Back to the evening in question. I actually wasn’t the one who had “done” anything; but I was caught in the middle. Again.
“Can you believe?” “They always.” “We never.”
I was literally on the precipice of leaving. The front door was open during the entire conversation, and Eleanor was already in the car. (The wrong one, but still.) I could have just said, “Ok, I’m really sorry you feel that way,” and left. I tried, I think. But I got drawn in.
Back at home, I took a long, late-night walk in the cool spring air. Afterwards, I sent an e-mail saying I was sorry for how things spiraled. Unable to sleep, they sent an early-morning response. And the following day, when cooler heads & heavier hearts prevailed, we all made a concerted effort to use the word “love” with each other, because we do. They went out of their way to come by before meeting others for dinner so that we could re-connect in person. It was Saturday night, when we say Havdallah, the prayer that separates the sacred from the mundane.