Miser, misery, miserable. Notice the connection? In old Latin miser was an adjective that meant wretched, unhappy, pitiable, or in distress. Miser, the noun, is a person who hoards money or valuables, choosing a wretched lifestyle in order to hang on to his filthy lucre. Ebenezer Scrooge is the classic miser until he repents. Misery is a state of wretchedness, distress, suffering and just bad, bad juju. In fact, you can have plural miseries, which at first glance looks like miniseries, only it’s missing the middle -ni-, and it fits, don’t you think? Because you could feel as if your life were a miniseries featuring a new misery each weekly episode if you lived like a miser, penny pinching and always focusing on what is owed to you. In fact, you’d be downright miserable, lower than the hardened gum stuck to Neil Young’s ultra-depressed boot heels.
What I have found in the counseling field is that many self identified miserables are also bone collectors, i.e., folks who hang on to old, even ridiculously ancient hurts or debts. Remember the play/movie Les Miserables? A lot of unforgiveness and vengeance in that story of the policeman chasing the former prisoner. Why would someone hold on to vengeance so long, even risking his own life in order to make another man pay his perceived debt to society?
My buddy Chuck shared a story of his 80 year old neighbor, Sonny. One day he and Sonny went to the hardware store over in Slippery Rock. As Chuck parked the truck outside the store, he noticed Sonny was glaring a double stink eye at another old man who had just gotten out of his pick up truck.
“Who the Hell is he?” asked Chuck.
“My cousin”, was all Sonny replied.
“Why the double stink eye, man? Did he hurt you?”
“We haven’t talked since we were kids.”
“Why the Hell not?”
“Well, his dad, my uncle, stole some land from my dad back before the War.”
“You’re kidding me,” Chuck exclaimed. “You’re stuck on something from before World War II?”
“No,” Sonny continued, ” World War I.”
True story minus the anonymous reductions. How long can one person hate on another? Till Death, I suppose. You don’t have to Google search bitter misers to find them. You most likely already know one or more, though they may not hoard material goods. Some misers hoard compliments, gratitude, love, or especially, forgiveness. They squeeze these blessings so tightly that no one can pluck one from their bony, pinched fingers with a John Deere tractor.
Oh, and their anger burns below the surface, like the old coal mining town of Centralia, Pennsylvania in northeast PA. The state imposed eminent domain on the few folks who chose to remain in that ghost town, below which a manmade inferno slowly bellows. No one knows for sure if the underground fire began in 1932 or 1962, but everyone agrees that it is too dangerous to live near Centralia as the coal seams slowly burn to cinders and the ground above them collapses. What a way to go! Can you imagine picking spring flowers one moment, and the next moment you are melting in 3,000 degrees of coal fire. Hey, let’s just give Johnny Cash the microphone…
“I fell in to a burning ring of fire
I went down, down, down and the flames went higher
And it burns, burns, burns
The ring of fire, the ring of fire.”
Oh, indeed the fire of anger does burn, burn, burn out a bitter man’s soul. In fact, parts of an angry man may collapse like Centralia building lots when he least expects it. Angry folks have a greater likelihood of heart attacks. No wonder. When resentment rages for years through your arteries like a mine fire, consuming all available oxygen and living things in its path, it hollows you out. Once it gets going down deep in the caverns of your soul, only Death will extinguish bitter anger.
Unless, of course, you practice forgiveness and quit your claim on a debt that would be paid in Confederate money anyway. Yammering for your pound of flesh… from a corpse will never satisfy any need. Forgiveness is the foam that rushes on top of waves of conscious love into every deep, inflamed crevice, extinguishing even Pacific rim lava flows. In the time it takes to kiss a baby, water absorbs the heat of melting rocks. Columns of steam vapor rush away from the cooling volcanic rock. Seawater transforms itself to heal the angry molten rock and stop its plasmatic advance. Still, bitter folks will say the water is sacrificing itself for no reason. Water did not start the fire or condone its growth, gurgling up from the bowels of the earth. The wise, however, observe that water’s nature is to transform the earth not to judge it. And so water transforms the natural landscape as surely as forgiveness or bitterness shapes the inner universe. One of my favorite Shakespearean lines is this
“The quality of mercy is not strained; it droppeth like the gentle rain from heaven on the place beneath; it is twice blest: It blesseth him who gives and him who takes.”
Sweet nectar there, honeysuckle and lavender combined into one ointment– fresh love. Such fragrance held close to your nose can overwhelm the stench of burning coal mines. We still put flowers on graves today, slapping death in the face with life and beauty, however fleeting they may be. Death is the original miser, after all. You have a choice, Bloggilillies: bitterly wait in a coal mine for someone else to make things right, or let go and move on with your fragrant life.