There's a photo of a redwood tree that made the rounds on social media. It's by Randy Vazquez. The tree is in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California's oldest state park, which was ravaged by the recent CZU Lightning Complex fires. The park was damaged, but the majority of the redwoods in the park survived.
This tree is one of the lucky survivors.
The photo is a close‐up of the giant tree's trunk. That's not what captures my attention. Instead, it is the fire that smolders not around the tree but within it. There are glowing red embers in the redwood's trunk. Every time this photo came across my feed, I couldn't help but stare at it.More Than the Tree
This tree, so easily memeable, became yet another representation of the catastrophe that is 2020, a year of a pandemic, the continued murder of Black people by the police, immigrants still imprisoned at the border, corrupt political leadership, natural disasters and on and on and on.
And yet, the tree wasn't just another sign of this terrible year. That wasn't all that captured my attention. My reaction was visceral and personal. It wasn't just a redwood tree. It was just more mounting evidence of the terribleness of the world. The tree was that and more.
I was drawn to the image again and again because I felt a kinship to the tree, a feeling I've never quite had before. I have stood in awe of nature. I've been humbled by its beauty and its devastation.
But never have I seen my inner turmoil so directly represented by the natural world. Or maybe, never have I felt the need to project what was happening within me onto the natural world.Burning Anger
I feel like my insides are on fire too. But the fire that burns inside of me is anger and overwhelming fury.
Sometimes, it is a constant presence that hisses and pops, a small fire I stoke but contain. Sometimes, my anger is rising flames that are too hot to touch. Sometimes, the flames get so high I worry that I can barely contain them within my skin. This incandescent, uncontrollable rage might burn me up from the inside out. Sometimes, there are just embers. Sometimes, there's just ash, the evidence that the fire was once there and now isn't. I fear that all I'll be left with is ashes. I fear that my anger will eventually hollow me out until I no longer feel it, until I no longer feel anything. I fear that maybe I won't survive the flames.
I'm angry, and my anger never goes away. It doesn't. It's there with me always. I can't get rid of it. It won't let me go.Unabated Fury
What am I angry about? Pick something, anything really. Seriously, take your pick. The choices appear endless.
I'm angry about the pandemic. I'm angry that COVID‐19 is making some people sick and killing others. I'm angry that the pandemic continues in the United States because national, state and local governments didn't intervene like they should have to get things under control. I'm filled with rage daily—no, hourly—with the Trump administration's cruelty, corruption and negligence. I'm angry that I live in Florida, where the COVID‐19 cases continue to climb and our governor refuses to act.
I'm furious that campuses, both in higher education and K–12, opened up, often without clear and realistic plans for how to keep students, faculty and staff safe. I'm furious that campus leaders and administrators are trying to put the sole blame on students when COVID‐19 comes to campus rather than their own poor planning and ineptitude. I'm angry that I and so many other parents, especially mothers, are stuck trying to manage virtual school and our jobs. I'm angry that I feel like I suck at both school and my job. I'm angry that I feel guilty for not managing an impossible situation well.
I'm furious that people won't wear masks because they have become political rather than necessary protection to keep all of us safe. I'm furious with the folks that refuse to stand six feet away and crowd me at the grocery store. I'm furious that so many people have a total disregard for how their actions can have deadly consequences for the rest of us. I'm furious that individual wants were placed before collective needs.
I'm angry at myself for being angry all the time. Why can't I let go of my fury? Why can't I stop myself from raging? Why can't I be anything but angry?
My therapist keeps trying to get me to find the silver linings in this calamity. She keeps trying to get me to redirect my energy somewhere else, but I can't. She recommends exercise and even essential oils. “It can't hurt,” she says to me.
So, I bought a punching bag and gloves. I bought essential oils with names like Calm and Stress Buster. The punching bag hangs in my room; I've yet to throw the first punch. Customer service from the essential oil company emailed to let me know they are out of Calm. I am too, I think.
Aren't we all out of calm? How can we be calm when the world is literally on fire? How can we be anything but angry with the cruelty, harm and injustice surrounding us?
Perhaps I should stay angry. Perhaps my anger is justified. Those flames within aren't trying to devour me whole but spur me into action. My anger motivates me to pay attention to the world and do my part to try to alleviate injustice. Calm is overrated. It's not necessary now, but our anger is. So, be angry instead.