I had read thousands of books. I had written a novel, a screenplay, hundreds of poems, a master's thesis on Melville.
But I was emotionally illiterate.
"What are you feeling?"
When I was asked that, usually by a woman, words, usually my best friends in the world, would flee. A great abyss of silence would open up. Vast grayness.
"I don't know. OK, I guess."
Then, at 42, I went on the Mankind Project's New Warrior Training Adventure weekend.
"What are you feeling?" asked this guy wearing sweats and built like a linebacker. Looking at him, I would have expected a different kind of question maybe, "How much can you bench press?"
"I don't know. I'm feeling good."
"'Good' isn't a feeling," he said. "Mad, sad, glad, fear or shame?" he asked, ticking each one off on a thick finger. "Pick one."
I couldn't, at first. It took me a minute. I ran through each one on my own fingers mad, sad, glad, fear, shame trying them out. I was getting a little frustrated was "frustrated" a feeling? I looked at the guy, expecting him to be showing signs of one of the many impatient coaches I had played for, the impatient father I had grown up with: Will you hurry up already, for chrissake? Men who didn't have time for feelings. But he was just standing there calmly, arms behind his back, giving me the time to get out of my head and feel whatever it was I was feeling. I ticked them off on my fingers again, slowly this time: mad? sad? glad? fear? shame?
"Sad," I finally said. "I'm feeling sad." And I suddenly felt the tears forming in my eyes, my body telling me I had picked correctly.
"Good," he said. "Your sadness is welcome here."
Hearing that for the first time in my life your sadness is welcome here released the tears. I felt them rush down my face without feeling a drop of shame.
From The Song of Father-Son
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