Gilead is a book from the point of view of a character named John Ames who is old and dying. The whole story is him writing to his very young son about life. This series of posts is about the notes my own father made in a copy of the novel before his passing. For more background, feel free to read the past posts in this series:
Anger is an emotion that can utterly destroy years–if not a lifetime–of work. Work spent building a family, a business, and anything else worth one’s precious time. The frightening reality is that a person can practice a lifetime of goodwill and then destroy it with one careless and heated moment. It’s like building a beautifully crafted home only to burn it down with one measly match.
An action done in anger sticks. It doesn’t matter how much we apologize afterward or how we think we’ve “fixed” the situation. The truth is that once the anger has subsided, there are repercussions to be dealt with.
I cherish a story my mom once shared with me:
There was a father and his son who carried a hammer and bucket of nails. After some time of walking, they stopped at a fence. The father turned to his son and said, “I want you to use the hammer and slam a few nails into the boards of the fence.”
The boy gave the man a quizzical look. “Why? There’s nothing wrong with the fence.”
“I just want you to do it.”
The boy shrugged and reached into the bucket, pulling out some nails. He then approached the fence, and using the hammer, knocked five nails into the bone white wood. Afterward, he returned to the side of his father.
The man admired the work with a nod of his head and gestured to the fence.
“Now,” he said, “I want you to pull out each of the nails.”
“But you just told me to hammer them in.”
“I know,” the man replied. “Now, please, take them out.”
The boy trudged back to the fence. It took some time, but with the help of the hammer he eventually held all five crooked nails in the palm of his hand. He walked back to his father and dropped the nails in the bucket.
“I want you to look at the spot on the fence where you hammered in the nails,” the man said. “What do you see?”
The boy stared at the fence, readying himself for having to state the obvious.
“I see the marks left by the nails.”
The father’s eyes left the fence and fell intensely upon his son. “Those marks are just like the wounds a person leaves by careless words of anger. You might be able to ask for forgiveness and make amends, but the truth is, all the things you do in anger will leave marks just like the hammer and nails–and there’s nothing you can do to erase them.”
I thought about this as I read the next sentence my dad underlined in Gilead on page 86.
I think that fierce anger against [his father] was one of the things my father felt he truly had to repent of.
The narrator is writing of how his father held a lot of anger against his own father. I’m pretty sure my dad felt the same way toward his dad. It may sound a little strange, but this fact has shaped me into the man I now am, for good and bad.
I can’t speak for their relationship. All of that would be conjecture or hearsay; although I can say I wish I had the opportunity to talk about my grandpa with my dad. There are things I’d like to know, or at least hear from my dad’s own mouth.
I guess all that really matters at this point is my relationship with others, specifically my own children. I want them to view their relationship with me as nothing but love. When I’m dead and gone, I don’t want any memories of anger lingering in their hearts. I can help give them the gift of peace by tempering my own anger. I can be an example of replying to anger with kindness.
“Gentleness,” a word rarely used in our culture to describe men, could quite possibly be one of the manliest virtues there is. It’s the antithesis of anger. It expresses itself through action and words. It’s what I strive to exemplify through the good and bad times.
Thinking of my father and reading Gilead help cultivate this longing.