Describing Emotions

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In high school, one of the biggest life shapers was my involvement with the Youth Cabinet for the Missouri Conference of the United Church of Christ. Youth Cabinet was a group of about 20 high schoolers who helped plan and execute youth programming for teens all over the state. Lock ins, dance marathons, camp retreats, you name it, if it was a healthy and fun thing, we’d try it!

These events gave me an enormous amount of friends, freedom to be myself in a way which was more difficult in the “real world”, and relationships I still, to this day, cherish.

However, if you’d have asked Marcus at 16, “Why do you like these church youth events?” that kid could have only said, “They’re cool! They’re really fun!”

What that young man couldn’t put into words was how he felt accepted after he cried in front of friends after leaving a four day retreat. What he couldn’t describe was the emotionally healthy and positive friendships that seemed to come much easier when in a group of like-minded youth.What he/I couldn’t put into words was being challenged intellectually while, at the same time, having lots of teenage fun. Can I describe those things now? Yes, but not nearly to the level I’d like.

Why? Because emotional experiences are difficult to describe. That feeling in the heart and soul isn’t nearly as powerful when one puts it down on paper. At least, it’s not unless your name is Whitman, Thoreau, Maya Angelou, or many of the other great writers. I sure as shootin‘ don’t put me there,but I hope these few years of experience in literature give me some tools to help.

Yesterday at Christmas dinner, I listened to several relatives describing emotional events. One was of a television program they watched, one was of a European vacation, one was a child describing her favorite Christmas gift. Other than the tones of intensity at story time, the true emotions they had were lost. Why? Because emotional experiences, sometimes, are solitary.

You can’t know what it was like to be me in 1990 at a youth event unless I write really, really well. And even then, I doubt the truth of that experience can come through. Nor can I know how excited you were at (choose your experience).

The best thing I’ve found is simply to try, just try, to listen, absorb and understand why an experience holds so much emotion for that person. You probably won’t achieve this, but the more you try, the more that individual will know his/her words do not fall on deaf ears.

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