The email I composed to my daughter’s teacher was eloquent and angry. It was arch, crisp, devastating. I wrote words I knew would wound a person who dedicated her life to teaching elementary school children. She was a monster, a liar, a manipulator beyond reason. I was fierce and poetic, conjuring a vision of a little girl with a passionate love of school and learning left terrified to enter what was once a beloved place. I seethed and hammered keys. I marveled at how bitterness inspired twisting, clever phrases, even congratulating myself on one particular paragraph. My daggers were lined up and smartly punctuated.
The only thing that slowed me down was how to close. Should I sign Sincerely? You bet. Best? Ha! Warmly? Icily. Regards? Maybe.
I stopped typing. In It’s a Wonderful Life, a despairing George Bailey shreds ZuZu’s teacher over the telephone when he learns his ailing daughter was sent home from school with an unbuttoned coat. Mary Bailey is horrified by her husband’s venom. Nobody knew what George was going through that might excuse his unmerciful outburst, but surely they recognized one thing:
Nobody hurts my child.
Later, George sat in Martini’s bar next to a grumpy man. He happened to be married to ZuZu’s teacher. When the man found out George Bailey occupied the barstool to the right, he cocked his punching arm and slammed Mr. Bailey square in the face, knocking him off the barstool to the floor. George is helped to his feet after they toss the teacher’s husband into the snowy night. George slurs, with blood running from his lip, “That’s what I get for praying.”
Remembering this scene stopped me from hitting the send button. I didn’t imagine the teacher’s husband was going to punch me, but it reminded me there are people who love her just as fiercely as I love my little girl. She was human and my words were aiming for her heart and I knew some of them were bound to land in tender places.
I wanted to hurt her feelings and ruin her day and this alarmed me.
What is this fierceness? Love doesn’t abide ferociousness. They can’t exist in the same place at the same time. My daughter’s pain grieved me and I wanted to repay with grief tenfold so the teacher would know how it felt—because, I told myself, I love my daughter and cannot tolerate her suffering. There’s no doubt about my love for my girl, but viciousness has no place in our sphere. Ever.
I stopped writing and read the email. My daughter came up behind me and I wanted to throw my body over the screen to shield her from my ugly words. If I can’t protect her without devolving into an animal, then I can’t protect her at all. The reflex to pounce and shred is honed and perfected with use. It becomes easy to slip into bitterness if I don’t guard my heart and call on Jesus to equip me with peace, to flood me with grace, to teach me to extend his love others without holding back.
“That’s what I get for praying.” George Bailey believed the punch in the face was God’s solution to his despair. When George was a non-entity, observing a George-less world with Clarence as his guide, he no longer bled. When George decided to live and face the consequences, his wound returned. Our bloody bits can come in many forms, springing from a place where a fist hits a trembling lip or when you open an inbox, see a subject line, and read.