The word has me shifting uncomfortably in my seat.
I am embarrassed, reluctant, and ashamed to admit that I have known rage. I have known violence, impatience, and explosion to rise within me. I have known the dehumanizing heat of flying into the red zone. I am not talking about the dignified impatience with injustice, inequality, and poverty. This is the irrational, primal impulse to react too quickly and too impassioned. It emanates from frustration, anxiety. It acts first and thinks later. It is too impatient to let grace enter the situation. It’s hurtful. It yells. I know that I possess the capability for it, and more than anything, it makes me embarrassed. Embarrassed because this is not who I am. And in my thought-out, rational opinion, it’s not who anyone is.
In a society where Michael Brown and Eric Gardner are now familiar, dynamic names, what does it mean to possess the capacity for violence? In these unnecessary, messy, and sudden deaths, I see an act that emanates from rage – taken to its most extreme end. This is a primal impulse gone too far –an untimely end that leaves me feeling disheartened and taken aback. It also leaves me asking myself, is the violence in Ferguson and elsewhere related to the rage I’ve felt rise within me? My impatience at something going awry seems a long way off from an extreme physical response resulting in death. But they both leave me feeling uneasy and self-reflective, and it seems to me there is some strain of connection here. What does this mean? Most especially, what does this mean as a parent?
Again, embarrassingly enough, rage has influenced my parenting. Not to be misunderstood, I unquestionably love my kids. I am attached as though they will be my children forever. And they’re not. I’m a foster parent – a “middle” mom – and kids may stay with us for a couple weeks, a couple months, or a year plus. This is not forever, but it is real. The kids in care have been abused, neglected, and subject to chaos. Their parents have been unable to keep them safe or provide a stable environment. Parents often act impulsively; their own capacity for violence has erupted into circumstances that are unacceptable and at times unfathomable. I think about this sometimes when a child has not only pushed every button of mine – but seems to be repeatedly jamming their fingers into these buttons over and over. I feel the bubble of my own rage. I recognize the inclination to react violently. I realize how easy it would be to yell, to throw, and to totally lose my cool. I am struck by the fact that there isn’t much that separates me from the individual that does, in fact, react in these ways. The difference is in the resources I have and the choices that that support gives me the room to make.
Even when I flash into the red zone, I call upon the support of my co-parent and I fall back on the emotional maturity my parents instilled in me. The violence may raise its ugly head, and I choose differently. Peacemaking is dynamic. Nonviolence is active and it is an intentional choice. It is choosing to be more human – more the way God dreams for us to be. Many children in foster care communicate fervently with their behavior: “How long until you stop loving me? What do I have to do before you’ll hit me?” The answer is and always will be – “You are safe here. You will never be hurt here.” This is the truth. I harness the frustration and violence and funnel it into unconditional positive regard as best as I can. Is it perfect? No. But parenting has been a humbling lesson in my own humanity – its messiness and also its beautiful opportunity to be an agent of love.
Josie Diebold is a graduate of Canisius College (2009) and a former Jesuit Volunteer (Houston 09-10, Syracuse 10-11). She is currently a PhD student at the University at Buffalo School of Social Work and is also a member of the leadership team for Buffalo, NY’s chapter of Showing Up for Racial Justice. Josie enjoys being an aunt to three awesome kiddos and doing cross fit, in addition to running, swimming, and biking (all very slowly).