A Mother’s Wrath is Quelled By Her Own Ability to Forgive

My mind doesn’t work like many men who have a catalog of movie quotes indexed in their recesses of their mind ready to exit their mouth at the appropriate, and sometimes inappropriate, moment. However, there are moments from movies, and yes some include lines, that stick in my memory.

Anger begets anger, is stuck in my head. I didn’t realize that others hung on to this line like me. Go ahead, and Google it. Yesterday, Bridget and I saw Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Frances McDormand plays a mother whose own anger and guilt over her daughter’s murder, combined with her frustration over a stalled criminal investigation, culminate with words splayed out on a set of long abandoned billboards.

How could you not want to see Woody Harrelson, playing an empath, beside Frances McDormand, the mother of all mothers? Plus the storyline was rich, current, and provocative. My measure of making the right movie choice? Bridget stayed seated to watch the movie credits.

Anger begets anger struck me. It became a scene, and in truth, was the movie’s theme. From the priest at the kitchen table to the kids throwing a can of pop, every jeer, quip, nasty gesture, is returned in-kind, in force, and sometimes ten-fold. It’s a fierce statement that left me thinking, about how anger creeps into our lives, and when unresolved we let it fester and brew, and if not checked it can and will dominate our actions.

This week Bridget and I also watched Landline, which I don’t recommend for a 12.5-year-old because of the plentiful amount of sex, but I do recommend it because of the questions that it elicited from my daughter about fidelity, love and marriage, expectations and resentment, and truth and lies.

When we simultaneously open our minds and hearts while watching movies like Landline and Three Billboards we are able to use these experiences to establish our own moral boundaries. And short of going to church every Sunday, which I don’t do, I deliberately seek learning opportunities for my daughter, when she doesn’t think I’m teaching her.

I told my girlfriend last night about Three Billboards and a particularly violent scene between two exes. Bridget asked me afterward how could a husband, any man who loves a woman, strike her? I told her that some people don’t know how to manage their anger and it plays out in unimaginable ways. She couldn’t comprehend that a husband could or would physically beat his wife. I told her it happens. As I told my friend about my conversation with Bridget, I recalled a moment some 20 years ago, when I thought my face would be at the end of my husband’s punch. The anger in the room at that moment was palpable and materialized when he put his fist through the wall instead of into my face. I always had something hanging to cover up that hole in the wall. I remember a year later when we gutted the living room the joy I found in swinging the sledgehammer through the drywall. It was cathartic to take out my anger on the walls that insulated the outside from the rage within my marriage. My husband had to stop me when I started taking out walls that were supposed to remain intact. I still laugh at the irony of that moment. Him telling me to stop. I didn’t tell my girlfriend the entire story last night, drywall and all, but I did say this. “Who would have thought that Karen was in a relationship like that, or that her husband was violent?” Even if people did, it was unspoken. Those are things between a couple.

Obviously, anger begets anger, and rage begets rage, struck a nerve with me. I’ve seen it play out countless times in my own life. I spoke with my mom this week and said I was surprised that attending Al-Anon was resurrecting so much from my first marriage. But she wasn’t. My mom has this quiet confidence and wisdom about her. Without even saying it, she said it, “God only puts on your plate what you can handle”. So I’m guessing, God decided 2017 was the pep talk, and 2018 it’s game on to bid adieu to past injuries. I welcome that.

This morning writing about anger, I recalled a movie I saw when I live in Springfield. I remember Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek grieving the death of their son throughout the film, a scene with the sounds of loose coins jingling in someone’s pant pocket, and the absence of music throughout the film. The movie disturbed me for days after. It was chilling. I felt that grief and anger watching Three Billboards yesterday with Bridget, and without saying it out loud, the thought “My God I pray that I die before you” was omnipresent. I touched her knee, physically connecting myself to her, looking at her, reminding her that she is a part of me.

I don’t know that I could forgive a grievance like that. Losing a child seems unbearable to me, especially if it results from an unconscionable and violent act. The women don’t appear to be acting in these movies; they are raw and natural. The anger and grief played by McDormand and Spacek, in their maternal roles, is real. I once said to a team that I led, consider me the mother bird, and all of you in my nest. I’ll do whatever it takes to nurture you, guide you, and protect you. And I meant it. We want to associate mothers with nurture and guide, but it is our ability to protect, that’s innate. When a predator threatens our offspring, well watch out because a mother’s rage unleashes a whole world of hurt that you ain’t ever seen before.

Compared to the death’s played out in these movies, it may seem trivial that Bridget was once bullied by a girl in elementary school. Her father saw it play out on the playground. I saw it play out on Animal Jam, a virtual game. She told us how it played out on several occasions, in the classroom, on the playground, etc. I was irate. I first met with the teacher, and tried to address it constructively. Then I met with the mother and tried to address it civilly. I then met with the teacher again, to readdress the concerns. And when that failed, I went to the principal and laid down the gauntlet. This behavior would end today, and this girl would never be in a class with my daughter again. It did end. Bridget learned that friends don’t treat each other the way that girl treated her.

Now, I couldn’t control the girl. She was not my daughter. But I could control the environment, and prevent and protect my daughter. The last action of prohibiting contact between the two snuffed out the rage, tamped down the anger, and stopped the beget in its tracks. It’s when we address the anger constructively, that we bring voice and action to it. And when we address it physically, we add fuel to its fire.

I don’t remember the end of In the Bedroom, but I do remember the end of Three Billboards. And while a mother’s wrath is insurmountable, a mother’s ability to forgive is even greater. Amidst, anger begetting anger, the movie’s closing scene gave voice to the anger in the form of an admission and subtle apology that I am confident stopped a mother’s rage. She learned everyone forgave her for being angry, and she had permission to forgive herself.

3 Thoughts

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