A leaky roof? Been there. Worse, not having the money to fix it. Been there, too. So I sympathized a few years back with the neighbors down the road when they tacked a blue tarp across the east end of their roof. Not always easy, living in an old house.
I like old houses. They have character, heritage. They speak soulfully to me about the human condition. I want to honor what is aged. Protect, preserve, enjoy, learn from it. Yet the aging process is not always graceful. Left untended, a leaky roof robs energy, destroys what it was meant to protect.
Unresolved anger is a leaky roof. The problem is there all the time, even if not always evident. When storms hit there's no hiding it, no time to fix it; it may only get worse. It affects more than one person.
Over at the neighbors' house, the blue tarp crackled in the summer sun, autumn wind and winter weather. When spring rains came pounding down, I hoped the family who lived there was staying dry. I didn't notice them move out, didn't know they'd gone. But as I drove past the house one spring day I was shocked to see the huge trees that lined their lane all toppled. The trees next to the house had been felled too, willy-nilly. One had crashed through the middle of the garage roof, another had smashed into the side of the house.
"Did you see what happened to that house!?" Dave asked me when I got home.
"I did. I am so sad. Looks to me like someone was angry. To cut down trees like that smacks of rage."
"Funny you should say that," Dave said. "I thought the same thing."
If old homes are to be respected, I feel even more strongly about old trees. Seeing those trees—far older than me, alive longer than whomever hacked them down—thrown over without regard, without care, ripped at something in me. We cannot do violence to another—person, plant, animal, object—without doing violence to our souls. As I see it, whoever was responsible for this destruction tore at the spirit within.
When next I drove past, the house was gone. Those huge trees, gone. Had they dug a hole, buried it all? Had they cut up the trees and hauled them away? Only a large patch of trammeled earth marked the site that once housed a farm family, their hopes, dreams, pain, sorrow, despair, joys.
Later that spring the entire place was plowed under, planted. I felt gratified to see stunted corn grow where the house had stood, where the trees had been cut down. I was glad the harvest of rage was almost nil.
The next year's soybeans grew low to the ground. Scraggly things, nothing to write home about. And I was glad. I wanted that land to be as if it were sown with salt, never again to give birth to anything, to be forever cursed. That would show them. I wanted whomever exercised such anger to pay for it the rest of his or her life. I wanted that block of land to be blighted, to stand as testimony against anger and mistreatment.
But life is stronger than my revenge fantasies.
Corn again the next year. And I had to look twice, three times, to identify the place where the trees once shaded the long summer afternoons. Life was coming back into the soil, reaching up into the plants, filling out the grain. I was disappointed.
If I can nurse a grudge, why not nature? Must life go on, take over, will to continue? If I am sad and angry, cannot the whole world be sad and angry too? And if not the whole world, why not this little patch of it? Don't the consequences of our actions reverberate through a lifetime? How can healing take place so soon?
It's been five years now. The corn grew almost consistently well across the entire field this year. Life's message to me: Let grow and move on.
Life has been reminding me lately that I carry resentment, still wish ill upon those who reacted harshly to my coming out. I don't care to hear this. I've wrapped myself in a blue tarp, done what I needed to get by. Yet this old house of me requires structural repair. And that entails the hard work of forgiveness. The sun may be shining right now—but how long before the next storm hits?
Betcha if I keep my eyes open, life will offer me today some small chance to practice forgiveness, letting go, letting grow.
This essay appeared in the October issue of The Community Letter