The only things you learn are the things you tame.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
I’ve always been a quiet guy. In grade school, I was never the type to say much and I was always exceedingly shy around new people. In a way, I was content to play the quiet, nerdy, brown kid for most of that period. I never would have been comfortable trying to muster the false bravado to be anything else. These days, I have a voice and confidence that I never had in my younger days. While no longer shy about exercising it, I still carry a quiet aura about me. My thoughts have always been louder than my spoken words and that’s probably why I’ve gravitated towards writing. Through literature, I can express the forcefulness of my mind despite being a soft-spoken individual. Despite the air of calm and tranquility that I carry on a day-to-day basis, my mind is often a furious maelstrom. It goes through extreme highs and lows, and it’s seen very dark days. It’s a labyrinth of quagmirical complexity that I, myself, often become lost in. Within the maze, the dizzying array of walls and openings can lead me to incredible peaks of self-doubt and frustration. I’ve been on the precipice of surrender so many times, yet guidance always seems to seek me out. Patience, my strongest quality, has reliably been my best asset in those trying times.
Being a quiet person, I’m often mistook for being serious, dispassionate, and detached. On the contrary, I’m actually a very opinionated, emotional, and outgoing person. I feel things deeply. My patience and inward orientation prevents me from reacting in typical ways, but my reactions are sharp and biting in my own world. I keep an even keel when dealing with the outside world, but I’m driven almost entirely by competing emotional forces. The strongest among those are love and anger. I admit, I’m an angry person. I carry a heavy load of bitterness and animosity in my heart. It manifests itself in brief, but intense spurts, but I try my best to keep a lid on it. I’m also a very loving person. I’m willing to do whatever I can for the benefit of the people and things I love. I’m always ready to extinguish myself as an individual, and live entirely for my loved ones. Love and anger, as two sides to the same coin, have served as my guides for most of my life. They keep me going, filling my bones with motivation, and getting me through to the checkpoints and finish lines scattered throughout my life.
Despite my penchant for anger, I’ve learned over the years that love always proves to be a far stronger motivator. The story I want to tell begins at a critical juncture of my life. My life took an irreversible turn a little over four years ago. I almost threw my entire life away with a handful of words. As a politically active student with loaded opinions, I quietly fired away with my words in the back of a classroom during a film screening. The resulting drama nearly had me expelled from university, arrested, and totally derailed from attaining my dreams. Though I could get into the details of the incident, that story deserves a proper telling in its own right. In the meantime, the right keywords on Google should turn up enough of the “official” story to give you an idea.
When you have a brush with a catastrophe of that magnitude, you come to feel so emphatically alone that you become isolated in every possible way. Emotionally, no one understood what I was going through. I had a girlfriend at the time who was incredibly supportive, but it was long distance and she couldn’t feel what I was feeling. She was angry and combative for me, but the fear festering in my soul was something no one else could share. I put on a front for my friends, assuring them that I’d be alright and that everything was all good. I smiled. My own family members were the last to know – that is, along with the rest of the world who tuned into the news that morning. I felt no support from them. At a time when my emotional and mental state was so fragile, they were accusatory, angry, and scornful. I understand that they were only worried about me, but I couldn’t face them or be around them. I had held up well on my own until they shattered the last bit of foundation I had. I wanted to be far, far away from everyone. Isolated. I dropped half of my semester as the summer approached. As much as I wanted to, I knew I wouldn’t manage leaving home to live on my own at that point. Instead, I spent the summer in a fog of intoxication.
Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.
Though I came out of the incident with no debilitating punishment, the toll it took on my sense of self was immense. I went down a very dark path, seeking escape in every way I knew how in the infamous elements of the Montreal nightlife. I was never home. I made sure of it. I worked two, maybe three jobs that summer and stayed out until 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning most nights. It was a memorable summer for many of my friends. I made no memories though. It was a summer I spent, in vain, trying to forget. I was angry as hell. I was angry at my family, angry at the individuals who plotted and conspired to destroy my future, and angry at a world that had made a villain out of me. One of the only positives that came out of the anger was my newfound outlet at the gym. Working out became an almost obsessive habit. To this day, I snarl and lock into a near-murderous realm of thought when I’m working out. I don’t entertain smiles at the gym – only my favourite fantasies of violent revenge. When I mean my mind went to dark places, I mean bloodlust.
I lost a lot of people that year. I used people that cared about me and I made careless mistakes. I lost the trust of my parents and family members. I felt like an embarrassment. I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning to make it to my classes anymore. I gave up on that. Another secret I kept from just about everyone is that I dropped out of school for nearly a year. My anger kept me away from everyone, and everyone kept away from me. Fights at home became a usual occurrence. I had nothing to keep that anger in check. And then something changed. There arrived an opportune moment of hope and happiness which shifted the dynamic. My sister announced her engagement. I’ve written about that before and how her wedding helped to change my life. It flicked a switch that had long been shut off. The change was almost instant. I saw the joy in my parents’ eyes. After a difficult couple of years, they finally had something to look forward to. I saw the excitement and relief in my sister’s eyes as well. Living with her had become difficult, as I had just about zero trust in her. I’d go long periods without speaking to her as I realized she was just another person that would sooner point a finger than ask about me and how I was feeling. That changed too, as our relationship seemed to gradually transform into something that had long been missing. For the first time in a long time, love had been reintroduced into our home.
Gone was the unmitigated anger. The anger wasn’t gone – it still isn’t. But it finally had something to be balanced against. It had direction. I had love for my family – all of them. My parents, my siblings, my cousins, aunts, uncles, and beloved niece. Suddenly, I had a role to play. Immediately after the wedding, I visited my cousins in Atlanta. I had a series of talks with my older cousin who explained the value of family, determination, and responsibility. I realized I had to change my ways in order to carry the burden of those responsibilities – and I was glad to do it. The falling out with my family was still fresh in my mind. Despite that, the way my family embraced me during the wedding period was a life-altering proof of their love and importance. Whatever I had done in the past remained in the past. No one ever brought it up again. Instead, we moved forward together. My mother kept being my mother. She still made me breakfast every morning and called me every day to check up on me. My father kept being my father, giving me life lessons and asking for my help around the house. My siblings even became better brothers and sisters, finally at peace with themselves now that they had control over their lives. All the people I had pushed away stayed away, except for my family. Even when things couldn’t possibly get any worse, I still went to bed in a home surrounded by people who wouldn’t leave my side.
Anger alone brought only destruction to my life. Once I started loving again, I had every motivation to get back on track. I deepened the relationships I had with my friends and I took whatever opportunity I could to show that I appreciate them. I went back to school and made honour roll. I started learning again and writing – extensively. I got into grad school. In a year from now, I’ll have degrees from the two most reputable universities in the country. I’m still mad, but that’s okay. I need my satisfaction and justice before I can put it all behind me. The best way I can do that is to prove that my enemies failed while I succeeded. They failed to stop me, they failed to mute my voice, and failed to halt my destiny. But when push comes to shove, I know I did it mainly for the love of the people around me. Revenge isn’t what preoccupies my mind anymore – it’s thinking about the house I want my parents to live in and making sure they’re in good health. It’s thinking about when I can go back home next so I can see my nieces and nephew. It’s knowing that if I succeed, I’ll be in a position to help those who need it the most and fulfill the expectations laid on me. It’s knowing that every blessing God has given me, I can return tenfold to others. It’s about building something, not destroying. It’s love.
Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.