As I drove home from work Friday afternoon, I suddenly realized I was feeling anger. I felt confused about the reason for a moment and then it hit me. I was feeling a combination of anger and despair about something in my personal life which I can’t control.
For a few moments, I let the emotions fill me and I felt them clearly in my body. Then my muscles relaxed. The strength of the anger faded. I still felt despair over something I couldn’t control, but I felt peace.
I used to be a lot angrier than I am today. I was angry at the world and wanted to force it to change. I wanted to fix the world. I wanted to save the world. I was angry about various things in my life — about love, about money, about family, about all sorts of things. I wanted to scheme and manipulate everything in ways to change other people.
About a lot of things, I felt tremendously angry. At times, I felt as though the anger was driving me. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve let go of most of the anger. It still flares up at times — as it did tonight — but I’m far more likely to see the things I hate in the world through the lens of sadness than anger.
Maturity heals a lot of anger. Maturity embraces melancholy.
A lot of good art is driven by anger, but how many good artists stay angry without destroying themselves? When I hear anger in an artist’s work, I smile in recognition. It reminds me of the way I felt when I was young. But when I hear anger in an artist even after he’s been around for years, I wonder what it’s doing to him inside.
When I was young, I strongly identified with a line in a 1985 Steve Taylor song which said, “I just wanna stay angry at the evil.” That’s the way I felt about the world back then. I saw evil. I saw pain. I saw hurt and oppression and all sorts of other terrible things. I felt angry about what I saw. I burned with a passion to force the change I wanted to see.
I still see all the same things in the world. I see evil and pain and hurt and oppression — and everything else I’ve ever seen. But instead of seeing the fiery anger of my youth, I see these things with sadness. I feel melancholy at the choices which we humans make.
I used to want to use my anger to change things, but now I accept melancholy — because I know I can’t make decisions to create change for anybody but myself.
Anger ultimately destroys or else gives way to sadness. Anger leads to reckless attempts to solve problems. It leads to more of the same, because forcing people to do things against their will brings reprisals and more bitterness.
With maturity, the anger falls away and is replaced by sadness, because we see that nothing we say is going to change the human condition. Not today. Not ever. The only thing we can really do is to practice love — when we can get ourselves to be consistent with our beliefs — and suggest that others try the same.
At about the same time that Steve Taylor’s song came out — the one I mentioned above that talks about wanting to hold onto the anger — singer/songwriter Pat Terry had a line that didn’t really connect with me at the time. His line said, “Nothing I say’s gonna change the way of this world.”
I wasn’t mature enough to understand that at the time.
Taylor was expressing the anger of youth: “The world is evil and my righteous anger will keep me motivated enough to force change.”
Terry was expressing the melancholy of experience: “I want to share the truth I know with you, but I know that nothing is going to change how this world operates, so I can’t force you to accept it.”
I no longer feel the need to save the world. I no longer feel the need to force people to reshape the world or their lives into what I think they ought to be. All I feel is sadness about the world’s potential and about how individuals destroy their own lives. To the extent that I understand any truth — and I like to believe I’ve found bits and pieces of it — I know all I can do is share what I’ve learned and hope that a few others find some value in it.
When I was young, I had all sorts of plans. I was going to be great. I was going to change the world. I was going to be a hero. But I have fewer plans than ever today. I just try to keep improving myself and try to figure out how to live the love I want to live — and to have the relationships I so deeply need.
So what happened to the youthful anger of Steve Taylor?
He went on to make more albums and then made several really good films. About four years ago, he finally made another album.
His last song on that album is called “Comedian,” and it casts God as a cosmic comedian of sorts. The song ends with repetition of the line, “Man makes plans, God laughs,” over and over.
I haven’t talked with Taylor about the arc of his understanding, but I see him as a brilliant and angry young artist who thought he could change the world by staying angry at evil, but he’s become a more mature artist — still a brilliant lyricist — who knows that changing the world isn’t within his control.
I still wish I could change the world. I still wish I could change a lot of things about my own world. I still wish I could have immediate success and wealth and — above all — love.
But I’m not angry about it. At least not often. I’m sad about the state of the world. I’m sad about the choices people make. I’m melancholy about the damage we do to each other. I’m melancholy about the unmet needs that I so strongly feel.
I know God laughs at my plans. I pray for others to make better choices. I pray that I will become the man I need to be. And I wait in patience for the change that the world needs — and for the change I need.
God laughs at anything I plan. I’m finally mature enough to accept that.