A particularly angry reader is a fan of U.S. President Donald Trump. CNS photo

Robert Brehl: Friend’s passing puts things in perspective

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  • December 3, 2018

The other day, I went to pay my respects to the widow and two children of a friend and neighbor whom I played pick-up hockey with for several years. He was only 55.

It was a sudden death and a solemn visitation. But it also helped me put things in perspective, especially when it comes to my own wife, kids and extended family.

After the visitation, when I returned to my desk, there awaited me yet another vitriolic email from a Register reader from North Toronto whose heart is filled with so much anger. He writes vile things, not only about me but also about Pope Francis and others. Yet he seems devoted to U.S. President Donald Trump, so that tells me something.

Most times, I don’t even read his bitter meanderings, and simply hit the delete button as soon as I see his name. But maybe seeing my friend’s coffin and grieving family that day spurred me to open his latest missive. I don’t know. Of course, his harangue was hate-laced.

This time, however, I read it differently and with added clarity because, at that moment, my perspective was much different. I didn’t shake my head in disgust.

Instead, I thought, maybe he is crying out for help.

I’m no psychiatrist, but obviously this guy doesn’t have much love and friendship in his life and probably doesn’t like himself very much, either.

Why else would he accuse strangers of the things he does? He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know Pope Francis. He doesn’t know an American Jesuit he calls a sodomite. He doesn’t know so many people who don’t align with his vision of the world — one that aligns with Trump’s vision and that of Fox News. (He did get a chuckle from me when he said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would be handing out marijuana joints to refugees crossing the Canadian border, if he could.)

Trump can disrespect women and brag about groping them. Trump can loath a free press and call for journalists to be beaten or worse. Trump can side with dictators and disregard U.S. allies. Trump can hold disdain for men and women in the military who have fought for our freedoms (because he never did). Trump can derisively laugh at Christian ideals like fidelity, the sanctity of marriage and turning the other cheek. It doesn’t seem to matter.

As a supposed “real” Catholic, this reader loves Trump and calls the Holy Father the “real culprit” behind the sex-abuse scandals and other ails in the Church. He even goes on at length about how insignificant The Register is and how important he and his blogposts are.

But if The Register is so insignificant and I am such a heretic, and he is so important with so many online followers, why bother with us and take the time to send so many hate-filled invectives? He should just ignore The Register and this column, just as I have ignored him so many times.

Perhaps, just perhaps, his unsolicited emails really are a cry for help. Why else would he accuse strangers of ridiculous and unfounded things, instead of acting civilly and asking questions of people who may hold different views? 

I suppose it was because of my buddy Bill lying in that box at the funeral home that when I read this latest email, a passage from the New Testament came to mind: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32). 

Instead of being filled with anger from his email, this clarity of perspective led me to something different: offering friendship.

What would you do? Am I doing the right thing? I don’t know. But if he wants to talk — in the spirit of civility, not belligerence — I’m willing to listen. It sure feels like this guy could use a friend.

St. Paul understood anger and he did not teach that all anger is wrong, but that it’s what you do with your anger that counts. “In your anger,” writes Paul, “do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26).

My mother always quoted that when kids in our family fought and she warned us not to go to sleep angry. It’s worth remembering.

(Brehl is a writer and author of many books.)

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