All the Rage

“People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing.” –Will Rogers

Two events this week have left many of us incredulous and sad. On August 10, 2014, Michael Brown, 18, and unarmed, was shot to death by police. Details are beginning to emerge regarding the circumstances leading up to that tragic moment, but the very fact that Brown was 18 and unarmed, and standing with his hands raised in surrender, is heartbreaking and troubling, regardless of what transpired prior to that moment. There has been rage on all sides. What followed in response to his being shot was even more outrageous.

Violent protests. Looting. Militarized (“tactical”) police firing tear gas, arresting dozens, including two innocent reporters for the Washington Post and the Huffington Post, respectively, while at a McDonald’s in Ferguson, MO. Police throwing tear gas at an Al Jazeera America crew.

An internal police investigation into the fatal shooting of Michael Brown. A parallel FBI investigation. Governor Jay Nixon assigning the Missouri Highway Patrol control of security in Ferguson. President Obama addressing the nation calling for protestors and police to refrain from excesses, and to reign in the rage and behave in a civil manner.

After a week of hell in Ferguson, Darren Wilson is named as the police officer who shot and killed the unarmed, non-resisting 18 year old Michael Brown. Details are beginning to emerge about the robbery that took place at a local convenience store just before Wilson shot Brown.

The level of rage that boiled over on all sides has been shocking to me. Anger and dissent; protest and demonstration….these are valuable expressions, not to mention constitutional rights. But the justifications and expectations of countering foes with violence is most troubling.

The other event that left so many reeling, was Robin Williams’ suicide. I must confess that I was not really shocked, but nonetheless truly saddened. He was incredibly witty and funny and delightful as a comic, and was an affecting and gifted actor. Most notably, perhaps, is the fact that anyone who was in his orbit commented on his incredible goodness. Just a sweetheart of a guy, who was selfless. I must say, that of all the accolades that he earned and that have been ascribed to Robin Williams, as well as his formidable resume, it is most interesting that he was so loved as a human being. My obituary won’t enumerate great titles or works or even much of a resume, but if I can live as compassionately and humanly and give as much love in the way that I can, I will have lived well.

But back to Robin….his comedy was hyper. I was often uncomfortable watching him, as I always thought that he was somewhat uncomfortable and had an over abundance of energy–mental and kinetic. At times it was probably fueled by drugs and alcohol, but I always suspected that while those addictions were surely problematic,  the problems were most likely far deeper. He was outrageous. He could out rage most of us, but direct his energies into humor and entertainment. I always thought he was a tortured soul, so when he committed suicide, I was so saddened, but not surprised.

Robin Williams’ death ignited a new conversation on depression–the silent twin of rage. The rage that had seized Ferguson, as well as around the world in acts of violence and over-reaction, is also all too often a personal muted one that lurks in individuals who struggle to control their lives. When rage emerges, there is a sharp disconnect with others. A tempest brews and the storm’s force and intensity seems to devastate not only those about whom we rage, but seems to devastate us as well.

So many were surprised by Robin WIlliams’ suicide, although his battles with substance abuse were public knowledge. The outrageous quality to his comedic performances always seemed to me just that–outing his rage(in a wonderfully productive way). In his case, the outrageous quality was akin to being zany– wacky and lovable, and the antithesis of danger. In fact, Robin Williams provided us with a reprieve from rage. He also provided American troops with a reprieve from the violence of the theater of war. His outrageousness was a gift to us.

But rage, and the call for outrage, seems to be pervasive and the rule, rather than the occasional storm.We are constantly being exposed to extreme anger, violence, warfare, and over-the-top, outrageous comments and behaviors from which it is difficult to disengage. Moreover, the extremism that seems to be taking hold in so many domains,(which to those who hold opposing views seems outrageous), is difficult to counter without extreme rhetoric or behavior. It’s all outrageous. And it feels very scary.

Being overwhelmed by forces within and without is devastating. We need to examine: what is all the rage?

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