This morning, I got angry.
One of my most painful memories, one about which I continue to be embarrassed even now, twenty years later, is of my behavior during a two-game little league baseball championship, in which my team, having never lost a game all year, was beaten twice by a team we had clobbered time and again during the season.
I played catcher, and consequently was involved in nearly every play–or at least close enough that my growing anger and frustration were visible to everyone with each additional run the other team scored. I slammed my mitt on the ground. I threw the bat after striking out. I kicked the dirt and argued with the umpire. I yelled and screamed at everyone–my coach, my teammates, the woman keeping score, and eventually, after my coach sat me on the bench to cool down, at myself. I was one of the best players on my team, but because of my rage, I was unable to help–not even able to participate–during the final two innings of the championship.
After the game was over, and we had lost, I refused to accept my gift certificate for a free shake at the local burger joint, opting instead to glare bitterly at the shiny cases containing the small gold medals which were being handed out to the winning team’s players. I wanted one of those medals.
My anger was slow enough subsiding that I wouldn’t even accept my mother’s attempt to give me a ride home from the ball park. Instead, I chose to sullenly walk the three mile distance, alone and ashamed. Ashamed because, even though I was only ten years old, I knew I had been behaving badly right from the outset. I knew that I was embarrassing my parents and friends and coach, in addition to myself. And yet, I didn’t stop, even with multiple opportunities to do so. It wasn’t until nearly an hour later, when my father finally picked me up on the side of the road, that I finally let truth and pain and regret wash over me. I cried the tears of a 10 year old boy who knew better and had no excuses, and was just young enough to hope it was all a nightmare from which I would soon awake, but old enough to know that what I had done was real, and couldn’t be undone.
For the rest of the day, and for days afterward, I was filled with that horrible emptiness that comes from knowing I had behaved badly, and that I had disappointed my teammates, family, and myself.
I have thought about that afternoon many times over the years. When I was in high school, the coach of that baseball team moved into my ward, and I could barely look him in the face, knowing what I had done nearly a decade earlier. For years, whenever I saw some of my other teammates in school or other activities, I wondered if they were upset at me, as they should have been. Whenever I saw the guys from the opposing team, who had watched so gleefully as I self-destructed, I wondered if they were still laughing when I walked past.
. . . .
We have had some car trouble in recent weeks. My wife was in a minor traffic accident, and we had some difficulties with our own insurance company. Then, we had some difficulties with the rental car company. After getting those wrinkles flattened out, we were left with my little two-door POS until the insurance company from the guy who hit my wife finally contacted us and set us up with another rental car.
As is her custom, just minutes before our intended departure time for church, my two-year old daughter peed her pants, soaking her dress entirely. Then, as is her other custom, she proceeded into a full-blow meltdown–the sort of tantrum which earned her the permanent nickname “Salsa” months ago. She slammed her bag the ground. She threw her necklace and shoes after we put them on. She hit and kicked at my wife and fought against me. She yelled and screamed at everyone–me, my wife, my son, and eventually, after my wife sat her down in her bedroom to cool down, at…the door.
Realizing she would not calm down, I just gathered her up and began carrying her downstairs and we all went out the door to get in the car. Except that the car wasn’t there. It, along with our child safety seats, had been towed. In the circus of four different cars rotating in and out of our garage and parking lot, my wife and I had left the wrong parking permit–one good for daytime use only–in our rental car over night.
Almost reflexively, my wife and I blame each other and make excuses for why the other should have known better. I call the homeowner’s association office, and speak with a sleepy individual who couldn’t understand much of what I was saying because my daughter had increased the intensity of her screaming. I walk to the backroom, away from the additional noise. The groggy voice on the phone instructs me to call a different number. My daughter wanders into the room, tears rolling down her cheeks, drool falling from mouth, her entire face is a violent expression of fury. I call the new number, and march back to the kitchen, losing more and more patience with each step. My dear wife, trying to be helpful makes the mistake of asking what to do, and gets an undeserved icy glare from me. My daughter, still screaming, follows me into the kitchen, where I am now on the phone, becoming incredulous as another man tells me he can’t help me, and gives me a different number.
I retreat again to the bedroom in an attempt to avoid the shrieking banshee of a daughter who seems determined to break my nerves, and am met by my son, bouncing up and down, waving an obnoxiously loud toy mobile phone in the air. Losing my grip on myself, I grip the phone in his hand, and without warning, harshly shove it up onto a bookshelf where he can’t reach it anymore. Finally speaking with the person at the end of the third phone number, I am told that I could pick up my car for a couple hundred bucks. If I want to challenge the ticket, I should call a different number. Which number? The number of the first person I had talked to, who claimed to know nothing about the towing. My daughter is still screaming and my son is now crying, my wife is reeling from my cruel look, and the whole house is a box of negative energy.
Livid, I call the man back, and try to calmly explain the car problems we’ve had recently, and how we were simply confused about which permit was in which car. He calls me a liar.
This morning, I got really angry.
If I had been on a baseball diamond, I would have slammed my mitt on the ground, thrown the bat, kicked the dirt, and argued with the umpire. I’d have yelled and screamed at my coach and teammates and the scorekeeper. I’d have yelled at myself, eventually. But I wasn’t on a baseball diamond. So I glared, and fumed, and ignored my children and wife while I “explained a few things” to this man who had called me a liar. And he yelled back, feeding off of my own anger.
Our home teacher came over and picked up my wife, and drove her to the car impound. Since she had signed the rental agreement, she had to pick it up from the holding center. I sat quietly in the bedroom, staring unflinchingly at the computer screen in front of me. My children, finally calm, sat on the sofa in the living room watching Totoro.
In place of the sacrament–in place of holy emblems of Christ’s mercy and longsuffering–I had the bland taste of reheated pizza–the emblems of a cooling temper and bitter realization. My Sabbath morning, instead of being filled with worship and service with my fellowman, was filled with that horrible emptiness which comes from knowing I behaved badly, that I disappointed my wife, children, and myself.