Feelings, Emotions, and Temperaments

I remind our readers that we have written several blogs on “feelings,” noting that feelings erupt in four consecutive stages: first physical, secondly emotional, thirdly cognitive, and finally in some kind of action (which could be something said or done). Significant in the understanding of feelings is that feelings are undefined. Thus “feelings” belongs with the undefined elements of basic physics, the undefined concept of life in biology, and the undefined concept of love in human interaction with the world. These central ingredients of the existence are so important that they need to be undefined. While time, life, and love and other such basic ingredients of the universe cannot be defined, they can be observed, they can be experienced, and they can be expressed. You have a sense of such things as time and life. Most important for our discussion, you have a sense of feelings. I will remind us that emotions are a subset of feelings, feelings being the first reflections of my core self. Now here I go again using an undefined phrase, core self, without so much as a by-your-leave. I will need to rely on previous blogs, and more substantial writings of other authors to make a case for “core self.”

So here is the paradigm: I have a core self, which we must admit is a spiritual phenomenon (oops, another undefined word: spiritual. Just have to observe it, experience it, and speak it…but that is another blog). So this spiritual entity of my so-called core self generates feelings. The stimuli for feelings can be an internal experience or an external experience, but when feelings erupt, they are an emanation of one’s core self. Then these feelings are expressed in physical, emotional, cognitive, and active (or spoken) forms. We have previously noted that people are inclined to the experience of one of these four elements of feelings and likewise inclined to the expression of one of these elements. So, for instance, I am a person who experiences feelings first emotionally and then I am inclined to express feelings in action or words. Deb is inclined to first experience feelings physically and then express them cognitively. Consider how these differences have made for a challenging opportunity to understand each other over our 42 years together. You might consider how you experience and express your feelings. But for now, I want to focus on the experience and expression of emotion, that second of the four elements of feelings. There are four basic emotions.

The Four Basic Emotions

In previous blogs we have noted that there are four basic emotions: fear, joy, anger, and sadness. These four emotions are constellated in two different forms: defense-based emotions and “love-based” emotions. Thus:

  • The love-based emotions are:
    • Joy when I have something that I love
    • Sadness when I lose something that I love
  • The defense-based emotions are:
    • Fear when I imagine that I might lose something
    • Anger when I have lost something

An important note is that joy always precedes sadness and fear always precedes anger. I have to experience the joy of having something before I have the experience of sadness upon losing it. When I feel the need to defend myself, I always feel fear first because of the impending threat, and then I feel anger secondly as a means of defense against my attacker.

It is also important note about the “something” that I love, have, and lose is that it could be anything. For instance, I may love a person, a group of people, a political persuasion, a physical object, a geographical place, an idea, a hope, a dream, or many other things, some physical, some imaginary, some personal, some interpersonal. The key factor in this is that all the four basic emotions have something to do with love in some way even though we refer to joy and sadness as love-based emotions. So when I get afraid of losing something, I fear losing something I love, and when I get angry at having lost something, I have lost something that I love. Our proposal, then, is that all emotions are in some way about loving something. Let’s move on to how these emotions are related to temperament. There are four temperaments.

The Four Temperaments

I suggest readers review our previous blogs on the four temperaments. I will not belabor the differences among these temperaments but to suggest some things common to each of them. Furthermore, there are many other systems of understanding personality, among them personality type (Jung, and Myers-Briggs), Enneagram (many authors), the DISC assessment (primarily in business). The StrengthsFinder (also in business primarily), and several other “temperament” systems. All of these systems are of value, but for our purposes here, we understand the four basic temperaments to be:

  • Player, someone who seeks experience, and often excitement
  • Lover, someone who seeks connections, often seeking harmony
  • Caretaker, someone who takes care of property
  • Analyst, someone who seeks truth, usually through finding and solving problems

We will not belabor further explanation of these temperaments except to say: (1) no one fits entirely in one temperament, (2) everybody has some elements of all four temperaments, and (3) people need to develop the characteristics of the other temperaments to be mature, successful, and happy in life. Most don’t. Now on to the emotion part of this blog.

Emotion and Temperament

Everybody experiences all four emotions regularly, certainly every day, and very often more frequently than daily. And everybody experiences joy first and sadness second as they have something before they lose that something. Additionally, everybody experiences fear first and anger second. That having been said, we propose that people of different temperaments tend to express these emotions differently. Each temperament has a tendency to express one of the love-based emotions and experience one of the defense-based emotions. Thus:

  • Players express the love-based emotion of joy most readily and experience the defense-based emotion of fear when feeling in some kind of danger
  • Lovers express the love-based feeling of sadness most readily and experience the defense-based emotion of fear when feeling some kind of danger
  • Caretakers express the love-based emotion of joy most readily and experience the defense-based emotion of anger when feeling some kind of danger
  • Analysts express the love-based emotion of sadness most readily, and experience the defense-based emotion of anger when feeling some kind of danger

It is important to note that we look at sadness as a love-based emotion, not depression, not despair, and not something bad. Thus, lovers and analysts are not more often sad, and certainly not more depressed than players and caretakers. They are simply freer to express sadness when they feel it. Lovers express sadness frequently because they are acutely aware of the loss of connection with people that happens frequently every day. Analysts express sadness frequently because they are always seeing how the world is not functioning as well as it could be. Players and caretakers appear to be happier than lovers and analysts, but they are, in fact, no happier: they just focus on being happy and seek to ingratiate the feeling of joy. They have just as much sadness as lovers and analysts; they just don’t show it.

People tend to express different defense-based emotions according to their temperament. Thus, we see more expressed anger with analysts and caretakers than we see with players and lovers. Caretakers and analyst are not angrier by nature; they just tend to express anger more readily. On the other hand, players and lovers express fear more readily. So while fear is actually the first defense-based emotion when we feel some threat, players and lovers tend to express this emotion, while caretakers and analysts tend to quickly pass over the fear part of defense and move right into the anger part of defense.

A way of understanding this phenomenon of experience and expression of emotions according to temperament is to consider that all people tend to be consciously aware of one emotion while another emotion lies in one’s unconscious. Thus, a person who expresses joy rather more readily than sadness is consciously aware of the emotion of joy but not always conscious of the emotion of sadness that always accompanies the joy of having something. In this paradigm of temperament vis-à-vis emotion, caretakers and players are more aware of the joy of having something but not conscious of the possibility of losing what they have. In contrast, lovers and analysts are much more aware of the possibility of losing what they love, and hence less aware of the actual joy of having something that they love. We could suggest that lovers and analysts are more aware of the potential of losing something that they love while caretakers and players are more aware of the joy of having something that they love. This paradigm might suggest that caretakers and players are happier than their counterparts, but such is not the case. They are just better at enjoying the moment of loving something. Analysts and analysts are not sadder than their counterparts; rather, they are more aware that having something always means losing it eventually. Both the joy of having and the sadness of losing are love-based and valuable in life. But one’s awareness and expression of emotion can lead to difficulties in life:

Challenges Related to Emotion and Temperament

Consider how you express your love positively, whether with joy or sorrow. Then consider which of the two defense-based emotions you actually experience most frequently. You might then be a:

  • A player who loves life, enjoys people, places, and things very easily, but have a tendency towards an underlying fear, which could then turn to anxiety
  • A lover who loves people and the connections with people, but also have a tendency to an underlying fear, which could then turn to anxiety
  • A caretaker who loves things and the care of things, but when feeling some kind of danger to these things, can fall into anger
  • An analyst who loves ideas, truth, and problem-solving, but can fall into anger when things don’t go right.

This analysis of temperament vis-à-vis emotions might seem convoluted, so allow me to make the matter of emotions and temperament even murkier. When someone is expressing his or her basic love-based emotions, there is always the other side of the spectrum operating at an unconscious level. Likewise, when someone is experiencing a defense-based emotion, there is always the other defense-based emotion lurking in the background. So, what we have then is:

  • The player easily expresses fear on the surface when feeling a need to defend, but unconsciously, s/he feels anger. Because her/his anger is not mature, players can become enraged and out of control occasionally.
  • The lover also expresses fear on the surface when in defensive posture, but unconsciously feels anger. Thus, s/he isn’t particularly good at managing anger, which can come out with explosions.
  • The caretaker who displays anger on the surface when defending, but unconsciously feels fear. Thus, a caretaker can become quite overcome with fear, which then turns to anxiety.
  • The analyst who is good at expressing anger unconsciously feels fear when in a defensive position. Thus, this person may be overcome with fear that there is no way to fix what is wrong with the world. In other words, the analyst can’t make the world as good as he or she would like it to be.

The potential expression of unconscious emotions is most problematic for all people regardless of temperament. It is not so much the emotion that we are good at that causes us difficulty in life but the emotion that we are not aware of and hence not good at expressing. We can improve our expression of emotion by being aware of both of the defense-based emotions so that anger and fear do not operate unconsciously, immaturely, and out of control

Possibilities Related to Temperament and Emotion

While it is important to become increasing aware of our defense-based emotions, particularly the one that tends to be unconscious, it is even more important to become increasingly aware of our love-based emotions so we can enhance our lives. People can be at their very best if they become increasingly aware of their emotions, particularly the emotions that are largely unconscious. We suggest:

  • Players mature emotionally as they become conscious of the potential sadness that is implicit in every moment of joy associated with having something rather than singularly insisting that every moment of life must be exciting
  • Lovers mature emotionally as they become conscious of the potential of simply enjoying the connections that they have rather than worrying about the inevitability of losing a connection.
  • Caretakers mature emotionally as they become conscious of the potential sadness associated with loss or damage of property rather than singularly focusing on protecting everything from damage or loss
  • Analysts mature emotionally as they become conscious of the immense joy associated with understanding things and allowing themselves to simply enjoy it rather than focusing on the potential problem with something

Summary

  • We all feel deeply, feelings that erupt from our central core and are experienced first physically followed by feeling emotionally, cognitively, and in action
  • We all experience all four emotions associated with the second experience of feeling
  • We tend to be more aware of and expressive of one of the two defense-based emotions and one of the two love-based emotions
  • The more aware we become of the emotions that are unconscious, the less these emotions will dominate us because of their immaturity.
  • If we focus first on our strengths of temperament and associated emotion, we will be able to augment these strengths, have a better appreciation for all four emotions, and thus not be controlled by emotions but find ways to effectively express these emotions

The Narcissism of our Times

Deb and I have a general distaste for pathology-based diagnoses, like narcissism, as well as almost all the other diagnoses that are so popular these days. We have watched as society has come to frequently identify with ADHD, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, learning disabilities, and various personality disorders. I hesitate to write this blog using this “N word” (narcissism) because it is so nasty. Narcissism suggests selfishness. But real narcissism is actually quite different from this simple understanding. There is a kind of selfishness that we see with narcissism, but to look deeper into what narcissism really means is important because it means much more than selfishness. In fact, it means the absence of self. Let me explain

Emotional development in early life

 Let’s start with how human life begins: in the womb. Think about it. When we were in utero, we didn’t have to breathe, much less do anything else. It must have been quite wonderful, if we say that in the general sense of the wonder. Then, during birth and for most of the first year we are hopefully properly cared for. Proper care for an infant is safety, comfort, and nurturance, about in that order. During this first year of life the only emotion that a human has is fear or the absence of fear. No joy, sorrow, or anger. Just fear. Why is that? To protect myself. I need to be afraid in order to be alive, and when I’m afraid as an infant, I do what infants do: cry. These cries are not for attention, at least for the most part. They are cries of felt danger. The “felt danger” could be that rumbling in the stomach (hunger), the dry sense in my mouth (thirst), or even simply being alone. I cry because I am scared.

The second year (perhaps later in the first year), things don’t change much although now I can walk and talk (a little). So, during this second year of life I feel the emotion of joy. Joy is the feeling of having something, whether that “something” is a doll, a blanket, or a hug from a parent. During this second year of life I learn to love things, like dolls and blankets and hugs, and this loving feels joyful. Then the big change occurs in childhood:

About age 2 or a bit later, I enter the “narcissistic time of life” or “natural narcissism.” This is a time where I love a whole lot more, lose a whole lot more, and don’t like it whatsoever. Think of it this way: during my first year of life I get mostly all of what I want because I don’t want much: just comfort, safety, and nurturance. Just a bottle, a hug, or a blanket. During the second year of life I want a few more things, but still I get most of what I want because I still don’t need much, I don’t want much and I get most of what I want and need. Not so when I turn about age two. Now, largely because I can walk, talk, run, and grab, my wants magnify by a magnitude of 100 or more. I simply want more. I want more ice cream. I want more toys. I want more hugs. I want, want, want. Fine. Wanting is fine. But what happens during the ages 2-5 is crucial: I don’t get most of what I want. Why is that? Because I want everything, certainly 100 times more than I wanted when I was an infant or a toddler. So, good parenting knows that the child who is 2-5 can’t have, and shouldn’t have all that he or she wants. So, good parenting says “no” 100 times to every “yes.” Consider how difficult this must be for the 3-year old. What’s wrong with the world? What’s wrong with my parents? I used to get pretty much everything I wanted and now I don’t get much of anything. It doesn’t occur to the young child that he or she wants so much more. So, the task of parenting of a 3-year old (or 2-5) is to limit, limit, limit. Not punish, punish, punish. Not give in, give in, give in. This no easy task for any parent because you hear things like I heard from Krissie when she was five having just come home from a store where she wanted everything and I bought her nothing: “I want a new Daddy.” This was her solution to not getting what she wanted. Seems reasonable if you consider that her previous daddy had given her most of what she wanted. Of course, that “previous daddy” was me. Must have been hard for Krissie.

This time of life 2-5 is the cause of adult narcissism. This same time of life is a time for “natural narcissism,” namely wanting everything and essentially being “selfish.” But we don’t use the term selfish for 3-year olds (hopefully) because 3-year olds should be selfish. They just shouldn’t get everything they want. In fact, they shouldn’t get most of what they want. This is where a lot of good loving parents go wrong: they do one of three things: give in too much, punish a child for wanting to much, or “explain why” the child can’t have everything s/he wants. Ideally, a parent simply allows the child to want, not get what s/he wants, puts up a fuss, still doesn’t get what s/he wants, and feel sad. To be angry at not getting everything you want is normal because anger is the central emotion that needs to be felt during these “natural narcissistic” years of 2-5. Anger is normal. But if a child is allowed to be angry…and not get what s/he wants…, that child will eventually become sad. Sadness is the most important emotion to learn, and it should be learned by the time the child reaches age five or six. The first year: fear; the second year: joy; the years 2-5: anger. Then for many years to follow, the school years, you learn to be sad. Most kids don’t reach sadness. They get stuck in fear, joy, or anger. What we then have is emotional immaturity.

Emotional immaturity

An interesting phenomenon that I often see in my office is what I have come to identify as “emotional immaturity.” Essentially, this means that an individual, whoever young or old, has not fully integrated the early emotions of fear, joy, and anger, and thus has not achieved the maturity of being able to be sad. Simply sad. This must sound rather odd: being sad is emotionally mature?  What? Is it good to be sad all the time? No, this is not what I am saying. Rather, I am suggesting quite clearly that sadness is the most mature of the four basic emotions. This does not mean that you are sad all the time, but it does mean that you are frequently sad. You are frequently sad because you have lost something, failed at something, or have been criticized in some way. These experiences happen every day to every person. Thus to be “emotionally mature” you have to be able to have something that you love, lose this something, feel sad about having lost this something, allow this sadness to run its course, finish feeling sad, and then love something else. This experience can take seconds or minutes. It rarely takes hours, but can take even longer for more significant losses. If I am disappointed because I spilled my coffee on myself, this disappointment, which is sadness, should last seconds, maybe a minute or more. If I lose a job opportunity that I was hoping for, the sadness associated with this loss may take minutes, or perhaps hours. If I lose a job that I have had for years, this sadness may take days or weeks. The death of my daughter has taken four months.

Emotionally immature people fail to move past the fear, joy, and anger that always occur during a loss. Thus, they fail to simply and profoundly feel sad about a loss. They remain afraid of dying (which is what an infant feels when s/he is hungry, wet, or alone); they remain joyful because they think they will have the something that they love forever; or they will remain angry because they have lost this something. It might make some sense that people can get stuck in fear and anger, but it must seem odd that people can get stuck in joy. Yes, this can happen. People get stuck in joy by pretending that they still have the something that they have lost. They pretend that everyone likes them, that they can do whatever they want, or that they can have whatever they want. People who are stuck in joy tend to live in a kind of a dream world often typified by imaginary dreams of being some kind of perfectly satisfied person in a perfect relationship, perfect job, or perfect place. Nothing wrong with imagining that one can have a satisfactory job in life, or even feeling the joy of such a thing. The difficulty is living that dream rather than the reality that there are true moments of joy and perfection in a moment but never forever. When people are stuck in the early life emotions of fear, joy, and anger, these emotions tend to dominate how they enter the world. They remain “narcissistic.”

Adult narcissism

Narcissism properly understood is not some kind of diagnosis. It is not something wrong. It is emotional immaturity. It is the failure to find sadness as the central ingredient in having a happy and satisfied life. Think of it this way: if I am expecting that I should have everything I want, I will experience fear (that I won’t have everything), joy (that I will have everything), or anger (that I didn’t get everything). This condition leaves the person in a constant state of fear, joy, or anger with one of these things dominating depending of where the individual got stuck in his/her early life. Thus, narcissism has three possible appearances depending on where people failed to integrate an emotion into their lives, or perhaps where they were indulged in emotional expression. If you look at yourself, you will find that you will be inclined to reside too much in fear, joy, or anger. We all do that in some way depending on how we were raised and what emotions were repressed or indulged. If I am raised in a family in which I feel danger, I will retain fear as the predominant emotion (instead of sadness), but I can also be raised in a family where fear was indulged, where everyone felt and talked about dangers all the time. Other families repress or indulge joy or anger. No one escapes these emotional traps because no one has a perfect infancy or childhood. There is no shame at being “emotionally immature” because we are all immature emotionally in some way. It is just good to know what your “go-to” emotion is so that you can work on moving beyond the early emotions into the mature emotion of sadness. In simple terms, the more you allow yourself to be sad, the less you will be angry or afraid. Yes, you will also be less joyful because you will give up living in a dream world where everything is perfect, but you will have great times of joy at really having something, not everything. The harder work for most people is to get beyond anger or fear that tend to dominate most people. This is what we have in our present culture: a dominance of fear and anger, but also a subtle dominance of imaginary joy.

The narcissism of our present culture

The phenomenon of President Trump is a phenomenon of narcissism. Yes, President Trump is most certainly narcissistic, but it is not helpful to “diagnose” him as having a narcissistic personality disorder despite how accurate this diagnosis actually is. No one is some exact copy of the so-called narcissistic personality disorder. Everyone has some “narcissism” in him/her, but this narcissism should be seen as emotional immaturity, not some kind of disease or diagnosis. I certainly cannot speak with any authority of Mr. Trump because I have never met him, nor do I know much about his family background to see how he has failed to mature emotionally. What we see on the surface, however, is the phenomenon of being dominated by fear, joy, and anger with little or no ability to feel sad. Trump displays great joy when he has what he wants or when someone likes him. He has frequently said of someone that they liked him including dictators like North Korea’s Un, Russia’s Putin, or the current right wing leaders of Hungary and Brazil. Simply put, he really enjoys it when someone likes him and it doesn’t seem to matter who that person is. I imagine him as a little boy saying, “He likes me! He likes me!” when someone likes him. And then, perhaps minutes or hours later, he is angry because someone doesn’t like him, or disagrees with him. It seems clear to me that underlying all of Trumps joy and anger is a good bit of fear, but this is just a psychological conjecture not based on any real evidence.

What Trump has brought out in the country, as narcissistic (emotionally immature) dictators all over the world have done, is a commonality with people who, themselves, are just as narcissistic (emotionally immature) as Trump is. Think of it this way: Trump says that everyone can be a billionaire, which of course is nonsense, but it is attractive to people who are “stuck in the joy of thinking they can have everything they want.” Then, just as quickly, people can be angry at someone or something that is “wrong” because they don’t like it. Most importantly, the underlying fear that is always at the heart of narcissism is abated by this artificial joy and undue anger. Trump’s message is this: “You can have everything you want. You just have to hate the people who are keeping you from having it.” This is the 3-year old still thinking that s/he can have it all.

So what is really happening in narcissism, this phenomenon that displays such a sense of entitlement and selfishness? Self-less-ness

The self-less-ness of narcissism

Deb and I wrote a chapter a few years ago in a book where we discussed the heart of narcissism, namely that on the surface it seems selfish but under the surface it is really self-less. Self-less is not the same as the more positive selfless, as in when one is generous, kind, and self-giving. Self-less is the lack of “self.” What we see in narcissistic people (which, to some degree or another, we all are) is the lack of a true sense of self. If I have a good sense of “self,” i.e. having a central “core self”, I will be able to be generous and kind, but more importantly, I will know how I feel, value how I feel, express how I feel, and ultimately communicate how I feel as well as have times knowing what I feel but being able to properly govern any expression of how I feel. This knowing, valuing, expressing, communicating, and governing feelings is the essence of the book Deb and I are finishing. Few people truly know how they feel so that they can express or choose not to express their feelings depending on the environment. By the way, when I use the term “feelings,” I am using the larger term that includes emotion but is not limited to emotions. The task of becoming a mature person includes emotional maturity, but it includes much more, like knowing how you feel physically, being able to think clearly without emotional intrusion, and ultimately to be able to do something meaningful in life. Maturity is not singularly emotional maturity, but if I am not emotionally mature, I most certainly will not be able to be cognitively mature or actively mature. I will think but my thoughts will not be meaningful. I will do things but I won’t do anything meaningful. So what can be done? Maturing beyond childhood narcissism.

Maturing beyond natural narcissism

What does this mean? It means becoming aware of how I feel, including how I feel emotionally, valuing how I feel, and having a place for all basic emotions: fear (of infancy), joy (of toddlerhood), anger (of preschool years), and ultimately sadness of the rest of life. The central ingredient in emotional maturity is to recognize what you feel and allow it to be there. Thus, if anger is your go-to emotion, allow yourself to be angry. Then you will eventually see that you are angry at something you lost and have not yet grieved. If your go-to emotion is joy, realize that joy comes from having something but all “somethings” are eventually lost, and then come to the knowledge that this joy is real but temporary. If your go-to-emotion is fear, realize that you were originally in an unsafe environment and have retained that infantile fear. Then, you will be able to see that the world is no longer unsafe: just a world where you will have something and lose something.

Much of emotional maturity has to do with people, namely with what other people say and do, or what they might say or do, or what they have said or done. If I am caught in the joy of attending to what one person says or does, I will be enthralled for the moment, but that moment will end. If I am caught in being angry with what someone has said or done, I will be angry, but need to realize that he or she just doesn’t like something. If I am caught in fear, I will worry about what this person might say or do to me. I need to come back to reality: he may like me; he may not like me. If he likes me, it will be joyful; if he doesn’t like me, it will be sad.

Further Reading

Brock and Johnson (2011). Narcissism as evil. In Evil explained, Vol. 1: definitions and development. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Johnson, R. and Brock, D. (2017). The positive power of sadness. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Johnson, R. and Brock, D. (2020 forthcoming). I need to tell you how I feel. Madison, WI: Midlands Psychological associates

Lowen, A. (1983). Narcissism: denial of the true self. New York: Macmillan.

West, M. (2016). Into the darkest places: early relational trauma and borderline states of mind. London: Karnac.

Angels Unaware

When I began to write this blog, I misspelled the title of this blog with “Angers” instead of “Angels,” which is what I intended to write. This mistake seemed to fit with the essence of what I have to say about “angels,” not “angers.” It makes me wonder if anger and angels are opposites that are sometimes mistaken for each other….

The quote comes from the New Testament book of Hebrews (13.2) in which the author suggests that gifts are to be given generously because the recipient of such a gift might be someone special. The exact quote is, “Don’t neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” This verse follows the first verse in the chapter where the author suggests that we love the people we already know, now adding that it might be good to love people that we don’t know. It is interesting that the book of Hebrews is the only biblical written by an anonymous author.

Deb and I have not so much been the givers of hospitality to strangers, but having been the recipients of hospitality as strangers, perhaps to “angels unaware.” These “angels” are yet in our minds and hearts, perhaps forever, but certainly over the past three months, months that have been ones of grieving, sharing grief, recovering from grief, and certainly not entirely finishing grief over the loss of our daughter, Krissie who died on August 21st of this year. Allow me to tell you of some of these “angels.” I must admit I am unsure of the order of these appearances, but perhaps there is no “order” to such things that are heavenly sent.

Deb and I, “low boundary” (P people for those of you familiar with the Myers-Briggs) as we are, took a trip “west” a few weeks ago. We told our friends that we were going “west,” which usually led to “where,” to which we usually responded in repetition, “West.” Again, some people found it necessary to ask, “West, where?” to which we responded again with “West.” Yes, we wanted to go “west” but had no idea of “where west” or how far west. We weren’t entirely sure we were going west, but had concluded that we would travel on one of our favorite roads, U.S. Highway 2 that runs just south of the Canada border crossing various states along the way. We had wanted to visit several spots, one or two in particular and started in northern Minnesota.

It was in this very special spot near Bemidji, MN where we had perhaps the richest “angel experience.” Just south of Bemidji you can visit a state park that includes the headwaters of the Mississippi River. This is quite fun because the Great River actually starts with a one foot waterfall that is about 20 feet across, so you can “walk across the Mississippi River” if you want to do so. Deb and I spent some delightful time at the headwaters, then headed back to park station to check for books and such and while heading out towards the car Deb said “I am not done, let’s go back and cross the waters”. So, we did, and again, it was great. We then decided to talk a short walk on one of the trails which, of course, in the autumn was rick in scent and color. As we neared the path to the waters. one of us, we don’t know which, said out loud what the other was obviously thinking and feeling – this would be a wonderful place to “let some of Krissie go”. It wasn’t even an agreement, it was more of a spontaneous spiritual discovery, and so I went back to the car to get some of Krissie’s cremains. As I came back to the headwaters, Deb greeted me and said she had found just the place. Whether due to our spontaneity or by God’s design for us, when we got to the headwaters with Krissie in hand, there was the angel unaware. We were unaware that she was an angel and I doubt she knew that she was an angel. Deb looked around briefly for someone who might be willing to take some picture and spotted a woman who was just standing near the pool and went up to her and inquired “might I ask a favor? Would you take a picture of us, our daughter died and…” before Deb could finish her explanation of intent, the woman put her hands to her heart, began crying and then fully embraced Deb with a lingering hug. Then with me beside her, she looked at both of us and exclaimed “I am so sorry for your great loss”. “Thank you for asking me, it is such a privilege to do this with you”. She took Deb’s phone and we waded into the waters holding hands.  We each let Krissie go and then still hand in hand, we both let some of her go simultaneously.  We cried and hugged in the water, in fact forgetting that an angel was there for us.  When we came back out of the water, this picture-taking, hug-giving, compassionate angel handed back our phone and again, said “thank for this honor to be a part of your daughter’s journey”. We were hugged again by this picture-taking, hug-giving, compassionate angel and departed having been the recipient of this angel unawares. We know not her name, her face, nor her station in life. Perhaps she has a heavenly station.

Deb and I had a somewhat similar encounter when we were hiking on a trail not far from our “up north” cabin, a  hike that we had many times  taken with Krissie and her children over the many years we had the pleasure of Krissie and her children at the  cabin. Again, we were scattering some of Krissie over a much larger waterfall, this time in northern Wisconsin. After we scattered Krissie, a young woman, observing our embraces inquired if it would be too much of an intrusion if she took our picture for us, commenting on our tenderness. Again, Deb engaged her with appreciation and began to explain “Yes, please, that would mean more than you can know, we just let some of our daughter’s ashes go…”  the words were barely out of her mouth before that young woman, Erica, immediately spoke to her friend about 15 feet away, “Ashely, come, we need to pray!” Ashley didn’t even blink an eye, came right up and followed Erica’s lead, forming a foursome of hand holding. These two women, probably close to Krissie’s age, prayed for us and for Krissie and all who loved and knew her. Again, we don’t know much about these two praying angels, but we know they ministered to us in ways unfathomable.  Ashely and Erica, along with the woman at the headwaters will forever be in our hearts.

I was walking out of my office a few weeks ago, walking a bit slower now, and was nearly at the door of the lobby that enters the stairway to the outside of the office building. As I walked by, a friendly older woman looked up at me, smiled, and wished me a good evening.” That small gesture somehow affected me emotionally as I started to walk downstairs, but then I found that I needed to return to the third floor and “finish” this encounter. So I did just that, walked upstairs, opened the lobby door and said to this unknown woman, “May I just say, ‘thank you’ for your kind gesture.’ My daughter recently died and…,” and just as before, this woman previously (and since then) unknown to me, stood up and asked if she could hug me, and said, as so many other angels have said, “I’m so sorry.” We looked at each other’s eyes, both of us misty, and said nothing else.” I wished her a good day.

There have been so many of these brief angel moments, most of them similar with the hand-to-heart, gasp of “I am so sorry” and the must-hug response. Deb had several of them in her favorite coffee haunts: Starbucks.  First, just days after Krissie died she was in line in a store not her usual, and the barista asked how her day was going. Deb, still so distraught but not wanting to explain just said “hard day”.  The barista paused, looked at her and asked, are you okay? Deb hesitantly began “my daughter died a few days ago….” Then somewhat to Deb’s surprise the lady was gone! It was but seconds before Deb realized she had walked around the counter and was putting her arms around her. In hindsight, Deb seems to think that the barista floated over the counter for it was so immediate.  Again, about a month ago Deb was in her favorite Starbucks close to our Monona office and saw one of the baristas she had not seen for a while and began chatting and learned that the barista had recently been appointed manager. As the short conversation ensured, Blaire, knowing Deb travels a bit, asked if she had been anywhere, or if anything special had been happening in her life.  Deb told her about Krissie having died a couple of months earlier and that was all it took. Blaire asked Deb if she could come around the counter and hug her. Yes indeed, you may, yes indeed.

This very morning in church, I had two male friends come up to me, ask genuinely how I was, both hugging me, one kissing me on the cheek.” A Sunday morning three months ago, just after Krissie’s death, I happened to be in church on a day I was scheduled to preach but was replaced by the friend who kissed me today. He spoke that day that he was pleasantly surprised to see me in church. I felt moved, bowed my head, and without any preparation was surrounded by no less than six or seven men who put their hands on me as David said a few words in my behalf from the pulpit. Angels aware, I guess.

Other angels aware came in the form of emails, cards, letters, and texts, but even there, there might have some who were “unaware” as occasionally, Deb or I would say to the other, “Who is this Kenny who sends his condolences” when we opened a card together. We don’t know Kenny.  He obviously knows us, as all angels know us all.

Thanks to all, aware and unaware.