An Onlooker’s Poisoned Tree

I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears:
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles…

—William Blake, A Poison Tree


First it was Brock.

Everywhere I looked, it seemed, there was the image of that curly-haired boy with his satisfied, eager smile, and there was the report of unspeakable things he’d done to that poor unconscious woman until two passersby pulled him off and called the police.

That was horror enough. But then there was that quote from his father, asking that his son’s life not be destroyed for twenty minutes’ worth of actions.  The mother, begging.

The lenient judge imposed a sentence of six months.  He didn’t want one night’s misdeeds to ruin the boy’s competitive swimming career.

Just writing it, my stomach roiled.


A memory churned up.

Fifteen years ago, we lived in another place, a place with rougher, more deeply rural edges, and there were two strong boys who decided to have a little fun with traffic on a Friday night.  They dragged a heavy statue of an antlered buck–a statue made of poured concrete, not a thing to be trifled with or blown by–into the middle of a country road, just around a curve where it would jump out at unsuspecting drivers.

They hid so they could see what happened.  They hid so they could watch the fun.

What happened was that a speeding car swerved sharply to avoid the deer and crashed into the trees.

What happened was that the driver broke his back and was paralyzed for life.

And what happened to the boys?  They got a jail sentence, but the judge put it in abeyance for several months.  These boys were star football players, after all, and the judge didn’t want the incident to make them miss their senior seasons.


I wondered how their victim, listening from the wheel chair he’d never leave behind, felt about that.

I wondered if Brock’s victim had anything going on in her life that might have been interrupted by what happened in those shared twenty minutes. (You can read her response to the attack, if you haven’t seen her letter yet, here: )

I wondered if there is a different justice in this swath of America for young white athletes, and victims be damned.

ButI had to stop my wondering, and I had to stop reading about what Brock did.

I was just so angry.

Then I got a text from one whose friendship has been woven into my life-fabric since we were just girls–one of those essential people that I simply need to always know is there.  And the text said, Well at least it isn’t in the bone marrow.

The text said chemo would start at the end of the month and last for the whole sick summer.

I looked at the stupid phone, and I restrained myself, just barely, from flinging it across the room.

Are you kidding me?  I thought.  Are you freaking KIDDING me?  On what planet is this fair?

I was so angry, in that moment, I couldn’t even do what that dear friend had asked me to do, which was pray.


And then I had coffee with another dear one whose life is being warped by authority’s broken word, by a glib and unrepentant taking back of what was offered.  It is a mind-boggling betrayal of a promise, blatant and without apology. It is a use of unearned power with only the intent to hurt.

Angrily, I knew that helplessness courses through my veins.  Angrily, I wracked my brain to think of one damned worthwhile thing to say.


And then, of course, Orlando happened.


The roots of anger dug deep into my belly, thrusting and seeking. Finding fertile ground. Entrenching.  I could not sleep. In the wee dark hours I crept downstairs with the dog.  I picked up a book and I put it back down; I gulped a glass of water. I paced the rooms, trying to deal, hoping, maybe, to compartmentalize.

How could…?


And because it always has to come back to me, I thought: My God, that could have been my…

It could have been my loved ones.  And it was somebody’s loved ones.

How will they move forward, those ones left bereft?

What will the world be missing, without those 49 lives?

What about the survivors of that night?

How can a person who is gay ever feel safe?


I don’t like being angry.

I have been taught that anger is unladylike.

I have learned that unreleased anger is self-destructive.

I have seen that once unleashed, the rage does not fit neatly back into the basket.

The roots thrust deep.  The poisoned tendrils find a hold.


And if this is what it’s like for me, the distant observer, the onlooker, the healthy one, the one only tangential to the lie, the one whose dearests dodged the danger this time, what is it like for the ones hit squarely by the blast?

How much rage is whipping in the currents under serene countenances, panting beneath exteriors of calm acceptance?

Right now, I hear no still, small voice. Right now, I only hear the roaring wind.

I put a smile on my face.  I put my mind on autopilot.  I pick up my keys and I head on out.

But all the while, those roots are thrusting deep.


26 thoughts on “An Onlooker’s Poisoned Tree

  1. I’m so sorry Pam! Hope you find your still center of peace soon…
    Anger, though, I believe, has its place, it has great power, for action, for change!

  2. Dearest soul. I know all too well those sleepless nights of anger and spitting rage. I have also known that roar of the wind …devoid of any still small voice. It is as if God were holding His breath…waiting for my next move, my next word.

    You and I could exchange horror stories but it would do little good. Hold fast, dear one. The answers will come. Your righteous indignation is well placed and you express your frustrations well. Write it out. Let us hear your vehemence…but watch your anger and rage because that treads close to the response the evil one is hoping for. If the only love you can find is love and compassion for the survivors and the families of those who died, then dwell on that. That is the best thing we can do now.

  3. Sending peace to you, Pam. Our world really feels insane right now! It’s been another couple of weeks when I start thinking we might all kill one another in my lifetime… But then again, something always reminds me that good people still exist, and there is hope. This post, for instance–an expression of solidarity with the fallen and their loved ones. I agree with Kitsy–anger channeled toward positive action, that which reminds us of the core values that were violated to trigger the anger in the first place–that is the productive side of anger. Peace to you. 😊❤️

    1. Catherine, I just wrote a piece after I received inspiration from Pam’s post, here. My post is titled “Don’t Hate…Just Don’t.”

      Do you have a blog?

  4. Kitsy’s response is also my response, Pam. Our love, the love of human beings for each other, is best expressed in the love we share with those closest to us among family and friends. Yet, that love, every time we express it to them, has a ripple effect, like waves in a pond, that spreads outward to people we do *not* know. Your love and your kindness is carried out into the world by those you care about, and that love, expressed through them, will cheer someone through a difficult time, or prevent him from making a terrible mistake, or encourage her to do some wonderful thing. Every moment that we live in the ways of peace brings the entire world just a little bit closer to living in those ways as well.

    Does this mean that no one will ever commit a hideous act again? Certainly not. I am not a pacifist. Pacifism does not lead to peace; it leads to a world in which there are no more pacifists. Those of us who truly desire peace must use our *strength* (the core of which is love) to prevent those who enjoy using violence from ruling the world. Most of us will use that strength in civic life, voting for laws we think will do the most good; others will keep and use guns of various sorts for home defense. We often are reluctant to use our strength because we simply don’t want to injure ourselves or others. But God help those who truly revel in violence when the strength of real love begins to oppose them. All the AR-15s in the world will not be able to prevent us from forging a more peaceful life with those who wish to live with us.

    1. Thanks for this, John; I love the thought that love is the core of strength, and this line really resonates:

      Every moment that we live in the ways of peace brings the entire world just a little bit closer to living in those ways as well.

      I was at workshop the other and the keynote speaker was so respectful to everyone–and there were a lot of digressing-type questions and comments. The speaker stopped and thoughtfully addressed each one, and then said, so kindly, each time, “But now, we move forward.”

      That’s been running through my mind today–and I think it parallels what you have said here…now, we move forward, forging that more peaceful life.

      1. A powerful post; we cannot deny sharing your thoughts and feelings as we move through this life together, both the anger and indignation at the evil in this world, and the compassion and love with the strength to move on. With this comment, you have hit the nail on the head, “now, we move forward, forging that more peaceful life.” We must do what we can do in our own sphere, and trusting God we know we are not facing evils with only our own strength. Thank-you for expressing these difficult emotions so effectively.

      2. Yes, that is it, exactly. All of us need to move forward. Our speed of movement is not so important as our direction. Just know that, as you move, those you care about will be moving with you, helping you where they can.

  5. Oh Pam – how sad it all is. But there is good and there is love and that is what we must try to focus on – maybe only one person at a time. Sending hugs and peac from Mars! 🙂 ❤

    1. Thanks, Jill, so much, for this! It IS tempting, sometimes, to just not know, isn’t it? I need to find the action that can make some little difference. Wishing peace to you, too, my friend!

  6. I have felt as you do so often lately. I worry that it will never get better. I feel that all I can do is show kindness and love in my own little corner of the world. As long as others are doing the same, there is still hope. I do feel that love can win over hate.

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