I cracked last night, and I mean that two senses: that of a structural crack, and a crack of the whip. Over something admittedly important, yet still not immediately critical, I just lost it. Angry lost it. I yelled at my wife and child, at the top of my lungs, my voice cracking, venting frustration and rage. I ended up leaving the house for a while, right in the middle of bedtime, because if I’d stayed I would have kept making things worse.
Part of me feels like I failed them and myself, because I was adding to the stress and upset of loved ones. It radiated outward, a wave of anger passing from me to them and from them to others in the house. We don’t need any more upset than we already have. I shouldn’t have been the flashpoint. I expect more of myself.
But more of me, maybe most of me, knows that strength always has its limits, and that last night, I reached mine. There were too many weights from too many sources, and I broke. It was, perhaps, understandable—the breaking, and maybe even the manner of breaking.
Whether you think the manner of breaking was okay probably depends a lot on the kind of household that raised you. Some families think yelling in anger is merely a louder form of conversation. Others think it’s a fundamental betrayal of respect, trust, and love. The calculus often changes if children are involved, and how involved they were in whatever precipitated the anger.
I’m not here to ask for absolution, nor to be condemned. Nobody else could do that anyway. Only I know all the specific pressures involved, the mitigating factors, and the paths not taken. I’m more than capable of judging myself and my actions (and inactions), and deciding whether I deserve harshness or leniency. Or some combination of both. I might err a little bit on the side of harshness; I always have, when it comes to me. If anything, the past nine months have pushed me away from that.
Afterward, when the kids were (mostly) asleep and I had returned home, Kat and I talked, and I set a limit I didn’t want to set, but had to set. I said exactly that to her, that this was not something I wanted, that I actually wanted the opposite, but it was something that I had to have, or else I would just keep breaking, day after day. I asked forgiveness for what I was saying. Asked us both for forgiveness, really. She gave me hers. I’m still working on fully getting mine, but I will.
Why am I even telling you this?
Because blogging is a heavily filtered view of reality, just like any other medium. Here, I choose what to share, what to hold back, and what to lie about. I do my best to avoid the lying, but to some extent it’s unavoidable, because I’m not going to record every conversation and every incident in precisely the way it happened. Not even documentaries do that; every jump cut is a falsehood, by omission if nothing else.
It’s too easy to edit out the rough patches.
So many people keep telling us how strong we are, how amazing, how incredibly we’re coping with all this. There’s a sort of imposed romanticism about it. I’d always noticed, before we had cancer or even kids, that stories of people who discover they’re dying always get an aura of nobility applied to them. In the shadow of death, the victim somehow always attains a special glow, one that spreads to those nearest them, bathed in a light of wisdom and clarity and rightness.
And I’ve fed it. I’ve fed that aura in our own story, in what I’ve talked about and how I’ve presented it. I didn’t consciously set out to do it, but it’s there. I read back through the archives, and I can see it. I shared the best parts, and skipped the bad parts; or, when sharing the bad news, did it in a way that made us, all of us, seem strong, amazing, incredible.
Maybe we are all those things, but we’re human. Flawed, struggling humans, just like everyone else, just as prone to error, just as capable of hurting loved ones with our words and outbursts. Inside the aura, there is no nobility. We don’t get a special, knowing inner light. There is no melancholy beauty, no surplus of grace. We don’t get bonus abilities. We have more help than anyone could ever dream likely, all the hundreds people who lend and have lent their hands, their ears, and their encouragement, and still we struggle imperfectly with ourselves and each other and the demands we must meet.
We’re human, with every drop of beauty and ugliness that label carries with it. The angel and the demon, all rolled up together.
We cry and we crack, inside and outward. We stumble and fall and fail and flail. We simmer and seethe, and also we soothe. We give and forgive. We hold to each other and hold ourselves tight. We do what we can, as best as we can, as long as we can.
And when we falter, we patch the cracks as best we can, make our apologies, and try again. That’s what keeps our failings from making us failures. We try again, one day at a time.
That’s not noble. It’s not even all that remarkable. It’s simply what has to be done, over and over. Just like everyone else.