“We all know things are bad – worse than bad – they’re crazy,” began the fictional Howard Beale in the film entitled, “Network.” An emotionally disturbed news anchor whose life had begun to unravel, Beale revitalizes his career by “articulating popular rage.”
He advises his audience, “I don’t want you to protest. I don’t want you to riot. I don’t want you to write to your Congressman, because I wouldn’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first, you’ve got to get mad.”
And then, delivering one of the more classic lines in the history of all cinema, Beale (played by Oscar winner Peter Finch) says, “I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’”
Eerily prescient, screenwriter Paddy Chayefsky delivered a masterpiece with “Network,” foretelling the future of cable news when broadcast stations would make their money on being aggrieved, selling rage to a susceptible audience. For all the credible truth-seeking voices out there (and there are many), this truth remains: Media, politics, and society are filled with the Beale-like “mad prophets of the airwaves.”
They offer no light, only heat. They can produce no solutions, they can only scorch the earth. They offer neither truth nor thoughtful commentary, only divisiveness. “The acts of the flesh are obvious,” Paul said, and among them are “hatred, discord, and fits of rage.” The Proverbs warn that such people, those who deal in the currency of fermenting anger, “Plant seeds of strife…separate the best of friends; and lead their companions down a harmful path.”
We fail to heed the dangers of such paths, drawn as we are into the game of “winning.” If our side can come out on top (whichever side that is at the time), then all means to that victorious end are justified. This “winner take all approach” more times than not leaves nothing for the loser, and very little for the winner; for all that remains is wreckage.
A Southern proverb comes to mind, one I heard often growing up. I would be told, “A dog can kill any hog in the pen, son, but he’ll have to get down in the mud to do it. And the hog likes the mud.” More times than we wish to admit, that’s where uncontrolled, unbridled anger takes us. We might be the winner in the end, but are so soiled by the victory, it can hardly be counted worth it.
Returning to the furious Howard Beale, how does his story conclude? He winds up lifeless on the floor, struck down by the violence that his own madness produced, with everything he had built on bluster, crashing down with him. Unfettered, weaponized anger, rarely has any other result.
When Reese Harrison arrived at his dental office in Lynn Haven, Florida, the day after Hurricane Michael made landfall, the devastation was beyond imagination. Dr. Harrison’s building was in tact, but his neighborhood looked like it had been carpet bombed.
As his neighbors began to emerge from the wreckage of their homes, Harrison did what any Southern boy “raised right” would do: He fired up the grill. There was work to be done, and no one can cut trees, place tarps, assist the wounded, or haul debris without a good meal.
It was a dozen shellshocked locals at first, eating hamburgers, hotdogs, and whatever could be salvaged from freezers that were quickly thawing from having no electricity. Then it was a few dozen people; then hundreds; then those who arrived as the first chainsaw brigades.
When the “official” relief services rolled in, Harrison’s good graces extended to them. He pointed Red Cross and the Salvation Army to the worst neighborhoods. He fed National Guardsman, and he raided his dental office to supply F.E.M.A. with pens, paper, tables, and chairs.
The Presidential motorcade arrived in Lynn Haven on the morning I first met Reese, descending on the relief station with an army of photographers, media, and swarming Secret Service agents. I thought about the irony of it all. A man the entire world knew was handing out relief goods collected by a man that no one but his neighbors would recognize on the street.
And when the flashbulbs all faded, and the stone-faced officials with acronyms printed all over their shirts had bustled away, Dr. Reese Harrison remained. He and his collection of compassionate partners continued to run the grills, coordinate volunteers, and manage the heaps of bottled water, toiletries, and donated goods.
It’s this way in every community after every disaster, from Lynn Haven to San Juan, and Cape Hatteras to Redding. Official help is needed, and such assistance is invaluable, bringing longterm support, widespread awareness, and order to desperately chaotic situations. But it’s the “un-officials” who save the day.
It’s the volunteer firefighter who takes to the frontline before the first professional is on site. It’s the helpful neighbor risking life and limb to pull a stranger off a roof in the middle of a flood. It’s the church ladies turning out casseroles for evacuees as fast as their ovens will bake. It’s a dentist, temporarily unable to practice his craft, who saves a neighborhood and makes a lasting difference.
A mentor once told me that most people feel like they need permission or authorization to do any good in this world. But that’s not true. “You don’t have to know anything about anything to change the world,” he would say. “The people who just show up are the game-changers. That’s what we need: People who will show up, ready and willing to serve.” I couldn’t say it any better myself, and thankfully Dr. Harrison could not have lived it any better either.
One of the more articulate poets of antiquity was the harp-playing shepherd boy turned warrior and king, known as David. He wrote roughly half of the Psalms found in the Old Testament, and these ancient poems range far and wide over the emotional spectrum. He is overcome with joy and praise one minute, raw with vengeance and anger the next. He is confused by God’s silence or his own circumstances; and he is depressed, bordering on the suicidal.
To those latter emotions, Psalm 31 is one of David’s more desperate poems. He speaks of being abandoned, of tears washing his face, of feeling that his body and spirit are wasting away. Scholars believe he was a young man when he wrote those words, on the lam, hiding in a desert cave – literally and figuratively in a dark, hopeless hole – evading relentless enemies who were trying to kill him.
A phrase he uses in that Psalm is perfectly picturesque. He says, “My life is as useless as a broken pot.” He feels like shattered glass on the floor; fully incapable of holding anything; splintered into a million pieces, with no foreseeable way for those pieces to be put together again.
This language of brokenness caused me to stop when I read the Psalm recently, for my wife is an artist who creates beautiful sculptures out of broken things: Broken glass, thrown away lumber, and all manner of recycled materials, mixed with paint, clay, ceramics, and resin. If you visit our garage you will see what appears to be boxes and buckets of castaway junk. But visit her studio above that garage, and you will see the stunning results of brokenness reassembled.
This kind of art has a long tradition. One of the oldest is called “Kintsugi.” It originated in Japan centuries ago, and is the process of taking the broken shards of a pot, a plate, or a ceramic teacup, and binding these back together with lacquer or resin, dusted with gold or silver.
Kintsugi means, “the golden repair,” and artists who work with the medium would never throw a broken pot away. Instead, they pick up the pieces – no matter how many or how shattered – and put them back together, the mending becoming a masterpiece. They don’t hide the seams. The fused joints, accentuated with precious metals, become a showpiece. It is the “art of scars,” producing something more beautiful after the mending than it was before the breaking.
David would live fifty more years after writing that woeful Psalm. He would become a king, the soul of a nation, and arguably, the single most important individual in the Old Testament, if not Israeli history. The life that had amounted to no more than a broken pot, was repaired, put together again, and made stronger than ever.
In the words of Ernest Hemingway, “The world breaks everyone,” but bringing his emotions and thoughts to true and living words, he concludes, “and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.”