breadLoaves and Fishes

This is not
the age of information

This is not
the age of information.

Forget the news,
and the radio,
and the blurred screen.

This is the time of loaves
and fishes.

People are hungry,
and one good word is bread
for a thousand.

From “The House of Belonging”: poems by David Whyte

My son’s high school football team started “two-a-days” in early August. That means intense conditioning in the morning and skill practices in the afternoon. That much time on the field goes a long way to building team chemistry, an “x” factor that can make a big difference during the season. In an effort to enhance that chemistry further the head coach decided to implement an intra-squad competition.

He divided the team into four groups of about 10 players and had them square off in daily team building competitions – relay races, for example – the result of which determined who got to sit out the next morning’s conditioning practice.

One afternoon, in the first week of competition, my son came home from practice and I asked him how it went. He started to describe the game they had played and how his squad had performed when he stopped short to talk about one specific teammate.

He said, “I am so inspired by this kid. He’s worked so hard to earn his place on our team and I’m just really impressed with what he’s accomplished.”

This took me by complete surprise. Not because of what he said but that he said it at all! I would generously describe it as an anomaly for my son to express this kind of affection and admiration so openly. He has a big heart but it doesn’t frequently find it’s way to his mouth in this way.

His being inspired, inspired me too, so I said, “Wow. Good for him. Have you told him that you feel this way?”

“No. But maybe I will at the end of the season.”

I said, “Hold on. Your coach has implemented these games precisely to bring you all closer together and doing so has allowed you to see a teammate in a new way, a way that has really caught your attention. Don’t you think it makes more sense to let him know now when it can bring you together even more?”

A typical dad comment. I know this because of the look I got and the response that followed.

“I guess.”

“So, are you going to do it.”

“I don’t know.”

The next day, I asked him if he said anything. He hadn’t. And I don’t think he ever did.

And I get it. I imagine that my son feels that by doing so he would risk a level of vulnerability that he’s just not ready for. A leap he’s not yet willing to make. While I wish he had, of course, it may ultimately be just as important for him to have been invited to do so, to consider it as a powerful tool for connection and team building rather than as a weird thing his dad suggested.

Maybe just the invitation and whatever he imagined about it served as a practice run for future expressions of intimacy. Maybe it has lodged in there somewhere as a kernel of possibility and will emerge at the end of the season, or at the arrival of the next opportunity to reach out. I really do hope so.

Each of us has an opportunity to reconcile ourselves to the discomfort of our vulnerability, to cross the divide that prevents us from noticing and sharing what inspires us, what we appreciate, what we truly value in those around us.

I am urgent about this for the simple reason that “good words” are being suffocated by negativity and hostility in so many quarters. An eye for an eye eventually leaves us blind and I would rather see the good around me and summon the courage to say so. For now, I will take my own advice, projecting my urgency not at my son but at the targets of my admiration of whom he is certainly one!

What’s your opportunity to share a good word? What are you waiting for?

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

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