To begin the story at the beginning, read "Part 1: Post 1: Beginning Again," published in January, 2013. To consult a description of the campus, read "Part 1: Post 14: The Greening of Campus," published in March, 2013.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Year Master 1: Part 1: Post 6: What Mastery Looks Like

"What kind of a therapist is Allen?" I asked Ollie. We've taken up our tradition of running again, though some days it's more walking, because of ice and such. We were walking on the shoulder of the min road, when I asked, picking our way around little moraines of melting slush.

"Huh? You mean, what school of psychology does he follow?" Ollie had been daydreaming, or something. We hadn't spoken for some minutes and my words seemed to startle him.

"No, I mean...I've had him for group therapy, but not for individual. I know he must be good, he's good at everything else, but what's he like?"

"I've never had him as an individual therapist, either."

"But you've seen him."

"I can't tell you about somebody else's therapy session!"

"No, but you can tell me about Allen. Speak in generalities. No names."

"You should have asked Nora when she was here."

Nora, my friend, had once been one of Allen's clients, before she followed him here. She graduated two years ago and is now in Absence, though I don't know whether she's really planning on coming back as a candidate. Most people don't.

"I did ask her. She said he was like a friend to her. She'd go in and they'd just talk. He never tried any specific treatment. But she's just one person. She didn't know his professional philosophy, either."

But then the shoulder of the road was clear again and we ran for a couple of miles. It's hard to talk and run at the same time--not because you're out of breath, unless you're running hard, but because it takes mental energy to move your body and to talk, and it's hard to do both at once. I tend to go slower, when I'm talking, and it's harder to concentrate on my words.

The shoulder clotted up again, this time with a fallen tree limb and a broken power line and assorted utility trucks. We walked again, to get around all of it, and Ollie answered me.

"I'm not sure he has a philosophy, exactly, but he's like that with a lot of his clients, especially the kids. He offers himself as a friend, not an expert. Sometimes, that's all a person needs."

"I was there once when he told Nora her mother couldn't pay him enough to hang out with someone he didn't want to talk to--that they were still friends, even though he wasn't her therapist anymore."

"That's about it," Ollie agreed. "It's real friendship, not a synthetic approximation. The only difference is that normally you have to make friends with someone, kind of feel your way into it a little at a time. Not everyone knows how to do that, not everyone is lucky enough to find someone who wants to be that kind of friend, and not everyone has the time. I mean, sometimes, you need a friend now, and you just don't have one. Allen makes himself available for that sort of thing right away."

"What do you mean, not knowing how? Does he teach friendship?"

"Sometimes. Or, sometimes people need closeness so badly they can't make it happen. They're too lonely to talk to anyone. Sometimes you have to have a friend before you can be one."

We ran for a while, and I thought about what Ollie had said. By the time we had to walk again, I'd had an idea that made me laugh.

"It sounds like the same sort of thing Joanna did for me."

Ollie gave me something of a disapproving look--he's no longer scandalized by the idea of sex outside of marriage, but I think he considers my deliberate virginectomy an intemperate indulgence. But then he laughed, too.

"Now I'm not going to be able to get that out of my head," he complained. "I bet there are people on campus who wish Allen would offer that service."

"He wouldn't to them, though. He won't even do individual talk therapy with us. Damn, now I'm not going to be able to get rid of that image. I've never understood how people see him that way. He's not ugly, but...."

"I've never understood it, either," Ollie agreed.

"Is it that he's a guy?" I asked. As far as I know, Ollie is completely straight.

"No," he said, slowly. "I mean, it's not like I want to go do any guy, but with some I can understand how others might. Greg, for instance. Or Rick. I mean, Rick stands out. Allen is just ordinary."

"Rick's gay, you know. Think that makes a difference?" I meant that maybe a gay man would seem more attractive because of a subliminal sense of flattery, or something. Being seen as sexy is itself sexy. Not that I've noticed any difference between my gay friends and my straight friends that way myself."

"Is he?" Ollie asked. Of course, he knows Rick, but they're not close. "No, I didn't know. Maybe it makes a difference...but then if--never mind."

That Ollie would even have this conversation stunned me. Back when we met, he never would have risked admitting to a sexual opinion about men. It's not that he was about to come out as bisexual, or something. He's not, I'm pretty sure. He's just opened a door of possibility inside himself. There's almost nothing on the other side, but the door is open.

I didn't pursue his "never mind." I don't know if Ollie just guessed about Allen (in which case, I could be wrong) or if Allen told him, but Allen did not tell me and I'll respect that.

We ran again for a while.

We got to the traffic light, one of only two the town nearest ours has, where we normally turn around, but we decided to sit down for a bit instead. There's a bench in a little park there, in the middle of town.

"He does social coaching and cognitive therapy, too," Ollie said, as we crossed the street.



"Oh, yeah. Cognitive therapy's the one where you work on your thought processes, not your feelings, right?"

"Well, thoughts cause feelings, but yes. It makes a lot of sense to me, but really the kind of therapy you do doesn't matter. What changes the outcome is how well therapist and client get along."

"So, what's your style," I asked. "Do you practice the same kind of therapy as Allen?"

"I hope to," he told me. "I don't think I'm there yet. But I want to put my own twist on it."


"I want you remember what you told me Andy said when he first got here? When he returned the bicycle?"

"That Sharon embodied Jesus."

"Yes. That's what I believe we are all called on to do, to love each other like that. And that's what I want to do for my clients. I want them to come in and just have an earthly example of what it's like to be loved totally, unconditionally, without judgment."

"Then you really will be a master," I said.

"Yes, I will be."

We stood on the street corner together, near the bench, and looked around. There were people walking here and there and cars passing. Nobody looked at us. We were just a couple of ordinary-looking young men, wearing ordinary athletic clothes.

"It's weird to think," I said, "that none of these people have any idea what we're talking about...that you're apprenticed to a magician, trying to learn how to offer Jesus therapy, and I'm...learning how to be, I don't know, an Elven King."

"Yeah," agreed Ollie, "but we don't know who those people are, either."

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