The man’s facial expression betrayed any attempt he might have put forward to hide his frustration. I could tell when I caught a glimpse of him. My family was sitting behind his table at a local restaurant, close enough that I could hear his annoyed huffing, but far enough away that he didn’t feel me staring at him — which of course I couldn’t help.
He was an older man, white hair, wrinkled skin. The woman with him was older, too. I assumed it was his wife, which led me to assume that their tense moment was merely an indication that seasoned marriages can still have their share of arguments — though I can’t be sure.
I had heard him yell. That’s why I was looking at him. I wasn’t looking at him before the sudden scream startled my family and me — and everyone else around him. I had been minding my own business, tending to the attention my kids needed. But then this man, presumably someone’s grandfather, got loud.
The gentlemen had somehow spilled his glass. His table was submerged under water and ice. I looked quick enough to still see little tributaries falling off the edge of the table, into his lap, onto the floor. That’s when I knew his yell was more of a wordless curse. It could have been the colloquial four-letter French, and maybe it started as that until he muffled it into the unintelligible grunt-like sound it was, all of which made me kind of thankful.
But then he glared at his wife like it was her fault. Was it? Did she knock over the water? No, she was too calm to have done that. She sat there docile, quiet, unmoved by the heat that emanated from this gentlemen’s red forehead. What is the story here? I wondered. Others might have wondered the same. More patrons were watching by then. Quite the scene was forming, though it was nothing yet compared to what it would be.
In a strange way I was pulling for this man, hoping that he wasn’t really the jerk he was appearing to be. I was sort of cheering for him, in the deeper levels of my consciousness, hoping that he’d crack a smile or pat his wife on the back — anything to undo this image he was projecting of himself.
And then he started flinging water.
The wordless cuss led to a gestured cuss as he proceeded, with his bare hands, to wipe the water off the table. It wasn’t polite, though. He wasn’t doing the waitress a favor. It was a sweep of aggression. He backhanded the puddle of water and ice in front of him, sliding it out of his sight, but with too much force.
There was another couple sitting beside him, another older man and woman, probably married, and the angry gentleman was splashing water on them now. Actually, it was mainly the woman at this other table who bore the brunt of it. The angry gentleman, not paying any attention to anyone else, was splashing water on another man’s wife. Not once or twice, but at least three good slaps came across the surface of that table, water and ice raining sideways on an innocent stranger five feet away. Then the gentlemen at this other table got angry and yelled at the original angry gentleman to stop, to watch what he’s doing, to quit flinging water. Is this a movie? I laughed to myself. Is there fixing to be a fight?
There was not a fight. The gentleman with the splashed wife firmly told the angry man to stop, and he did. More than that, his face turned redder than it was before. I suppose if a human could dramatize the equivalent of a dog putting its tail between its legs, I was seeing it happen. The angry man said something, cowered over his left arm crossed in front of him, and dropped his head until his right fist propped it up by his brow. He didn’t manage to look up the rest of the time I stared at him — which of course, and surely you understand, I couldn’t help.
It was a sad moment all over again. From seeing his unbridled anger to how he made a fool of himself to the wake of embarrassment that everyone was left to dine in. It was sad.
Then I realized it was me.
Okay, it wasn’t really me. I wasn’t the angry gentleman in the restaurant on this particular night. But I’ve been angry before, and I must look just as stupid.
I’ve never spilled water and splashed it on strangers, but I’ve been annoyed and it’s affected innocent people around me. I’ve never yelled a wordless curse in a public setting, but I’ve spoken with less than a charming tone to my kids when they knocked over a cup full of juice. And my anger, though not public, though it doesn’t disturb the dinner of neighbors yet, is no less a spectacle than the red-faced tirade of that old man.
That is the thing with anger, and the thing I needed to learn — perhaps we all could learn — from a scene like the one this angry gentleman put on. Unrighteous anger, no matter where it’s at, is silly.
Anger is always telling us something, and most of the time, if we’re honest, it’s saying we’re ridiculous. Remember that we have a Father in heaven who knows our every need (Matthew 6:32). He has numbered the hairs on our heads, and he holds our lives in his hands. He tells us that though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, we don’t have to fear (Psalm 46:2). Which means, when we let sin have its way, anger points to the banality of our passion, our little anxieties, our desperate need.
Child, our Father must think, it is just a glass of water.