By Michael Eatmon
This week, the featured post is authored by Michael Eatmon. Michael’s a career educator. For 30 years, he’s studied and taught language, philosophy, and theology. What feeds his embodied soul, though, are art, music, poetry, yoga, and the warmth of close friends. He and his wife of 30 years live in central Florida, where they’ve raised four children.
At last, the evening came. The table was set, the candles were lit, and the air was blessed with the aroma of beef. As I did every December, I invited all my Attitudes, Memories, and Emotions to dinner. Seated together around the table of Myself, we’d reflect on the year’s gains and losses, pleasures and pains. We’d smile, we’d frown, we’d laugh, we’d cry, and—may it be!—we’d grow.
All was ready. My home and my heart were open and excited as we waited for the guests to arrive. Even the plates yearned to be piled upon, and the glasses yearned to be filled.
Curiosity and Empathy rang the bell first. Both were eager to learn about those whose shoes they’ve never worn. No sooner had they entered than my oldest friends—Joy, Fear, and Sorrow—appeared. Close behind them strode Teachableness, hopeful he’d overhear their exchanges. Whenever they spoke, he discovered long ago, he learned much about the depths of himself.
By eight o’clock, all the guests but one had arrived. Only Honesty was missing, and he rapped on the door at half past. “Please pardon my tardiness,” he said. “I forgot momentarily what day of the week it was, but I wouldn’t miss this evening for the world.”
I’d nearly closed the door when a knee started to wedge itself in the jamb. I let go of the knob at once, of course, and a knee, shin, and foot made their way in. Standing before me was a looming figure clothed crown to sole in burgundy hues.
“Did you imagine that I didn’t know about tonight?” he asked, crossing his arms and furrowing his brow. “Oh, how you can still amuse me after so many years! And how satisfied do you imagine I’ll be if made to stand too long in the cold?”
I didn’t invite Anger to my dinner party—neither this year nor any before. He and I rarely speak face to face, and when we do, the words are few because too painful. I feared inviting him in for the havoc he might wreak, and I feared rousing him by turning him away.
I stepped into my fear, nonetheless, and gestured for him to come in. Growling, he stomped past me, and the floorboards shuddered under his feet. He wended his way to the dining room, where those who were invited were seated. Although several paces behind, I followed, afraid both to walk in his wake and not to.
Honesty, Curiosity, and Joy were reflecting on where the year had taken them. The first described all the good he had done simply by showing up as himself. The second reveled in his friendships: some broadened, some deepened, some renewed. And the third, Joy, merely delighted in the delight of the other two. Each of the three had experienced so much, both outside their skin and within it. Each was enlivened by the telling of stories, and all but Sadness were enlivened by listening.
Once Anger entered, though, all conversations exited, and not even the air dared move. The larger his presence grew in the space, the hotter became his body and breath. The hotter, too, became the room. Anger had this effect wherever he appeared, try as I might to ignore it.
Hoping to ease the tension, I offered him a seat at the table and some wine for his glass. He took the seat. He took the glass. He took one bottle of wine and then two.
My dinner party wasn’t playing out as I’d expected. As often before when Anger showed up at my door, I tried to hide from him, deny him, or placate him—much as I was doing that night. Many a time, I tried anything, everything, to avoid the devastation of his rage.
This year as my dinner unfolded, however, I caught glimpses of Anger I’d never noticed before. He added color to conversation and breathed vigor into debate. His glare even kept me from burning dessert when he smelled it browning before I. He could sometimes play the part of bully, bane, or brute, yes. I came to see, though, that those roles were often mere masks of deep, unexpressed pains.
He couldn’t hide, nor would he hide, the intensity with which he felt things. As Empathy recounted a story of injustice, Anger’s eyes glistened with hot but unshed tears. He swallowed hard and clenched his fists. He even beat a bit on the table. When Fear spoke of violent threats he’d endured, Anger’s blood boiled and spilled over into words. “Tell me who did this,” he demanded, “and I’ll ensure it never happens again!” Fear assured Anger that he needed no revenge; he needed only to be seen and heard and felt.
Anger’s care for all my Attitudes, Memories, and Emotions was at the same time surprising and touching. I started to see his fierceness as the fire that fuels a devotion to his belovèds. His flames could send the unmissable message that some harm must stop right away.
As I bid my guests goodnight, Anger was last to leave. Before the last of his body stepped onto the stoop, he turned and opened his mouth. “To be true to your Self,” he rumbled, “you cannot ignore me or wish me away.”
I heard in his words vulnerability and truth. He had as much right to sit at my table as Sadness and Fear and the rest. “No, indeed, I cannot,” I said in reply. “You’re welcome anytime. My roast and wine are yours, and your hurts and pains are mine.”
I’d never invited my Anger to dinner. He could be inconvenient, brash, and dangerous. Still, he belongs in the home of my heart no less than Honesty, Curiosity, and the others. Anger, I realized, can empower other Emotions, even as they can temper and soften him. What I learned most at dinner that night was this. None of me, not a whit—not even my roiling, boiling Anger—is ever unwelcome at my table.