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I’ve been angry for a week now. I’m a reactive sort, prone to outbursts, and so to combat the repercussions of my too-loud feelings, I try to retreat. If I’m absent, then I’m effectively silent, and if I’m silent, then all the potential havoc my mouth can wreak is left impotent. It’s a tactic I picked up in therapy, tired of the self-flagellation borne from realizing I’d gone too far. It’s one thing to be upset. It’s entirely another to unleash it on everyone within striking distance and add guilt to the mix.

Clearly, this is one of those ever-lovin’ “opportunities to learn.” I talked about it in this column before, but the story of the Bengali Tea Boy comes to mind.

In a nutshell, a Buddhist monk hired a kid to help him. But the monk was an exacting type of person who liked things just so, and the kid was a kid. He stepped on the monk’s robes, he spilled the tea, he annoyed the living shit out of the monk. But the desperately irritated monk kept the tea boy around, because he knew all the buttons the kid was pushing were buttons he needed to deal with. He knew the kid was the greatest teacher he could find.

It all sounds so heroic right now. The kid is doing his best to please the monk, and the monk is doing his best not to snap the kid’s neck. There was never any mention of kung fu in the story, and that sucks because kung fu rules and should probably be in every story, but there it is: no kung fu, only misery and learning.

Why do learning and misery feel so intertwined? In school, when I believed I wouldn’t be able to figure out what was in front of me, sometimes I’d walk out of class, breathe, distract myself and go back to the lesson when I was calmer. Suddenly, it’d make sense. Except for physics, which I flunked.

I sometimes wondered what it was like for folks who couldn’t find the mental space to walk away and quietly figure it out on their own. But I know now, and the tiny part of my heart that isn’t on fire is squooshy and tender towards others stuck like I am, in whatever flavor of mud they’re stuck in. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what I’m supposed to learn. I don’t know which way is up. But I know I’m not alone.

When my friend’s engagement was suddenly called off, she likened her emotional state to being in a deep hole filled with sand. She couldn’t turn around, she couldn’t see, and every move, every eye twitch brought more sand in. I’m in the sand right now. And if the only thing I learn from this experience is the taste of the sand in my mouth, the crunch of it in my eyes, the tightness around my limbs, the directionlessness, well, I suppose that’ll be a pretty big lesson in and of itself. But I’d really love not to feel so angry. Maybe if I’m lucky, the sand will wear down my sharper edges.

Jeanine Fritz:

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