13 July

The Anger Within. Lessons, Lessons, Lessons.

by Jon Katz
The Anger Within
The Anger Within

Aristotle said that anyone can become angry, it’s easy. But to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everyone’s power, and it is not easy.

I was enraged at my dogs this morning, treated Red roughly for the first time since getting him, was out on a country road screaming at him and Fate. I am sorry for it, it sparked an exploration of the role and meaning of anger in my life.

My recovery from open heart surgery a year ago continues, as it will continue for the rest of my life. Recovery is one of those loaded words that bears scrutiny and thought. You never recover from a broken heart really, you just learn to manage it well before it gives out. If I do well, that will take a good long time. I also have Type 2 diabetes, inherited from my grandfather whose idea of managing the disease consisted entirely of eating saccharin pills with his strong coffee, which he drank every morning – to wash down eggs and donuts and bagels – until he died well into his 90’s.

My grandfather refused any kind of injections or medications, and ate what he wanted. He had no idea what his blood sugar levels were and didn’t want to find out. He did not go to see doctors.  I took my treatment very seriously.

I had my diabetes under excellent control until the surgery, when all of the new medications I must take forever threw it off, and I have been fighting to get it under control since. I set out to find the best diabetes doctor around and I think I got one. My diabetes doctor, a competent and efficient specialist named Dr. David Gorson, waited until one year after the surgery and put me on a new medication that he said would help me bring the diabetes back to where I wanted it to be,  despite the other medications I am now on.

He cautioned me that this new medication had a number of side affects – nausea, digestion problems, perhaps severe mood swings for a few weeks. Eventually, my body would adjust. Or not. It was worth a try, he said, it kept the numbers down, and unlike insulin, made it much easier to lose weight. I started it last week, and Dr. Gorson was correct. I experience a number of sharp side effects – the nausea, indigestion, some bumps and perhaps hives.  It was extremely uncomfortable. Maria said once or twice that I was not as cheerful as usual.

I made a deal with myself, Dr. Gorson is very high on this medication, it could be very important for me, I have decided to tough it out, give my body time to adjust. I believe it will.


This morning, walking the dogs (Maria was away), Fate started pestering Red, and Red began hanging back. Red has never disobeyed me or given me the slightest reason to be angry with him but this morning, he would not come up to me and walk as I told him to do. He hung back, sat, lay down, ignored me, something he has never done.

Looking back on it, I realize that Red had almost surely sensed the anger rising in me, he was hanging back, it was something new and strange to me. He knows me well, and dogs may not know all of our words, but they can smell or sense our feelings. He realized that I was angry long before I did. He didn’t know what to do about it. Soon enough, I turned into my father, whose anger was always close to the surface and who could hardly bear difficulty or disagreement.

I was startled to find myself waving my walking stick around, screaming at Red, shouting at the puppy to get off, get away, confusing both dogs with my tone and incoherent commands. I was in a rage, I remember being furious at the both of them, I could not believe Red would not come to me, I could not imagine that Fate could not simply leave him alone.

And of course, I know better. The dogs had done nothing wrong, they were just being dogs, and they are good ones. If was as if I lost myself, turned into something I didn’t recognize or understand. I was enraged at Red, and at the puppy for not just walking simply, I felt as if something dreadful inside of me, something suppressed yet all too familiar – I was furious for much of my life – had emerged and was taking me over. I threw my walking stick into the woods, I didn’t wish to be holding a stick around my dogs while I was angry.

I stopped, I began to cry, I saw Red cowering in shock a dozen yards from me, staring at me in confusion and disbelief. Red is an animal who lives to please, he had no idea what I wanted him to do, and I was not explaining it to him in anything like a rational way. The anger he sensed had unsettled him perhaps reminding him of something about his life in Northern Ireland. Angry men with sticks will undo Red in a flash.

I knelt down on the ground, I realized the medication was affecting me, I saw it all of a sudden. I had been warned, I just couldn’t see it in myself. This was not me, although it was clearly a part of me. Once I saw it, it drained out of me, like water out of a glass. As if on cue, Red sensed the change and rushed up to sit next to me, he put his head on my knee, Fate came wriggling over, excited and relieved,  jumping on me, licking my face and chewing on my ear.

I love these dogs dearly, I was grateful for their  graciousness and acceptance, dogs do not hold grudges or resentments, not if they are usually treated well.

I apologized to Red, to Fate. I was very sorry.  But especially to Red, this may have been the first harsh words between us, I took it hard. You could spit bullets at Fate and she would not pay much attention.  I have spent a lot of time and energy to not be like my father, I hated the very idea of it, I felt sick on that road, site of so many peaceful walks and it wasn’t the medication. I had despoiled this beautiful place with fury.

Dogs sense our emotions, they read us well. Like a thundercloud, it passed. I got the stick out of the woods. In a minute, the three of us were walking down the road, Red sniffing the grass, staying close to me, Fate hopping around, looking for mice and chipmunks and squirrels. For them, it was over, for me, not so fast.

I wonder, too, if I wasn’t also angry at my friend Paul Moshimer, for committing suicide six weeks ago, for hanging himself from a tree. A few months ago, I asked him why he thought I survived my open heart surgery and failing heart, when so many others had not.  Because, he said, you have work to do. On my walk I was thinking about him. Didn’t he know he had work to do too?

I have no right to judge him, but my unconscious walks in it’s own path, there is surely some anger there.

I am aware of this anger in me now, I talked to Maria about it when she got home, I will watch myself closely and she has no qualms about telling me if I seem angry or irritated.

In the meantime, my new medication has brought my numbers down the absolute best place they have been in more than a year – between 90 and 100. Normal, healthy. I am proud of that. I have already lost some pounds, I have been exercising steadily since the surgery and, as always, eating well. I will soon be losing more, I walk miles a day and go to the gym regularly.

The medicine has been good for me, I am committed to weathering this transitional period, it is fair trade-off to have my heart healthy and my diabetes well-managed. I will get past these side affects, my body has been through a lot, it is with me.  This is important to me, I came close to dying last year, I will be responsible for myself from now on and not hide in fear and denial. I was one of those men who lived in delusion about my health and life, I am not one any longer.

Nothing in life is free, especially the good stuff. For the next few weeks, I will be subject to a bunch of side effects, including, I see, anger. I know now that Red can guide me and  help me. When he looks at me the way he did today, I will check myself, stop and take a few breaths and remind myself of what is going on. Fate can always make me smile, so can Maria.

I love Red, he is part of my soul and spirit, seeing him shake in front of me for the first time brought me sharply to consciousness and regret. But not guilt. I will not bring guilt into our relationship. He is an animal and I am a human, and we don’t need to be perfect to love one another. And I am not perfect, I am not a saint. I will make worse mistakes than this, and I will hopefully acknowledge them and learn from them.

That is how human beings grow. That is how I grow.

There is more than enough of a reservoir of connection and love between me and the dodgs to survive a bad few moments, as there is in my life with Maria. So I will use it, he will help guide me, I will lean on his instincts as well as my own. I have learned that good relationships are not free of trouble and conflict, they are often defined by it. All of us are human, the test of grace is how we respond to being human.

The anger, I know, is always there, always inside of me, it just takes something powerful to bring it up. It sleeps deep inside of me like some spirit, waiting to come out of it’s cave. This powerful new medication did it.  Anger will always be a part of me, just like my healing heart. Anyone can get angry, that is easy. Knowing when to be angry and who to be angry at it is harder. I learned my lesson again today.


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