Column: Picking the engine and caboose for your train

It was 1959, and our scrubby-looking family of six was stuck. A boat strike had snared us in Italy — and we loved every minute of it!

It was 1959, and our scrubby-looking family of six was stuck. A boat strike had snared us in Italy — and we loved every minute of it!

Inexpensive lodging, fabulous food, and effusive people — what could be better?

One afternoon, while our parents were napping, certain children ages seven to nine decided to have a little fun.

Opening a bag of balloons, we created a wobbly pile of water-bombs at the sink, and then quietly crept toward the window.

While our parents slowly inhaled and exhaled, we dropped the missiles, one by one, three stories down toward the sidewalk.

Depending on our aim, unsuspecting passers-by would look up in surprise, flash a grin, or holler a few unintelligibles.

Then mother awoke. Our gleeful faces drew her to the window, and she looked out just in time to have a fist raised in her direction.

Delight. Frustration. Amusement. Uncertainty. Remorse. Emotions. For better or for worse there are plenty of them. We are not machines, and can be sent off on an emotional trip with the slightest nudge. Consider a pinch, the wedding march, chocolate, those flashing lights, or even the scent of grandma’s house.

But who’s the boss here — can we control what we feel?

Take the couple necking in the back of a car.

They hear a knock on the window, and, wondering if it is the police, look up to see the girl’s mother. Can emotions change, and quickly?

“It is a deadly error to fall into the notion that when feelings are extremely strong we can do nothing but act on them,” says Elisabeth Elliot in Discipline: The Glad Surrender.

Emotions are powerful feelings that need a corral or a defined pathway. If we modify, interpret, and direct them, feelings are gloriously enriching. This can be done! To change our emotions we need only to alter our thinking.

In order for us to chug happily along, Patsy Claremont proposes that emotions be the caboose, not the engine. Considered, included, vital, but not the driving force.

Some years ago, I observed a therapy session for an attachment-disordered child. The child seemed emotionally numb, but in truth boiled with untamed feelings. We can train ourselves to avoid the twin evils of freezing or scalding others, but maintaining that ability takes the combined working of both the head and the heart.

Our personalities need integration. The scattered pieces of who we are need to work together. Our minds can filter and improve our impulses. This planet craves decisions that are made by principled minds and warm hearts. And we have hands, feet, and words to put those values into action.

Oscar Wilde knows what we can be, someday. “I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.”

For me, that someday could have started ‘way back when, except that I had to go and pull my mother away from all the fun at the window.

Rita Corbett is a freelance columnist with the Tribune/Weekend Advisor.