The human world is aching. Hands and shoulders and skin are beyond reach. We have awakened to a sensual world in flight, moving at least six feet away.
What would you give for a handshake or a hug, a kiss independent of memory, arousal satisfied by a hand not yours. Perhaps you recall your head resting over another’s heart, hearing the life pulse, moved by the rise and fall of breath.
There are fleshly palms I’d like to surround, soft cheeks to brush past, downcast heads to lift in my hands. I’d spread high-fives all around, eyes close up, too.
Our on-guard stance against illness doesn’t permit either the comfort or intensity we seek in embracing. Our passions are chilled, bottled-up, beaten down. The perspiration of the skin almost asks permission to release itself.
We are amid a famine, even we lucky ones who remain nourished by food and don’t live alone. We want the bodies, the faces, the nearby smiles we lack. Artificial substitutes are earth-bound and distant, no matter that man was not meant to be alone.
We make do. The voices speak on phones across the world. Masks hide faces speeding through stores. Proximity is shunned. The Zoom-altered space-time continuum offers lips that move … followed by broken, inhuman sounds. If space aliens appeared, immune from our looming affliction, we would surrender and rush into their strange arms … all five of them.
I once treated a woman so starved for affection, she coupled with a canine. I believed her at the time but now understand her more.
We want sex, no mistake. But I heard many female patients talk about their need to be held – just held, including those with a regular bed partner. It is worth remembering what one hears on the battlefield among the wounded. They call not to lovers but to mothers.
Humans survived because love and care and emotional intimacy signified more than lovemaking. The buttons to such responses overlap the erotic zone, but one can also be mistaken for the other.
The sex of things is not solely dependent upon what catches the eye. It can be kindness or words or a voice or a gentle touch as much as security or a reminder of someone else. No wonder we experience the presence of erotic transference in the therapist’s office.
We are befuddled creatures, we humans: confusing and confused, less rational than we’d like to believe, unable to predict our feelings far ahead of the present. Kirkegaard acknowledged this truth: “Life can only be understood backward, but must be lived forward.” Backward, indeed, but not always grasped even then.
In 1900 the average life expectancy for men in the USA was 46.3 years. People laughed at home and made love at home. They gave birth, got sick, and died at home.
The cycle of life had many witnesses. Death made his place in the next room, overheard in an unfair wrestling match, an unbeatable competitor you recognized. Those people knew what we have been reminded of.
Perhaps hellos and goodbyes meant more in those days. No planes eased the route to reunion. Travel required time and patience. Letters were sent by snail mail while the writer lived, many arriving when he or the reader or both were dead.
Now we recognize (or should admit) “next time” is a wish without guarantee, a blessing when fulfilled. We’ve sobered up from a mass delusion of early death as an oddity, a fantasy never bothering to say goodbye. It left too many the parting gift of the grim reaper’s embrace.
The lessons of our ancestors need relearning. Catastrophe has a way of forcing its muscular arms around us. Remember that when all the unhugged-hugs – the ones pressing out from the prison of your skin – finally emerge from captivity.
Like Times Square at the end of WWII, when strangers swept each other into their arms, the reborn world will discover our reconstituted virginal state.
Our mundane existence will be reenchanted.
There are simple things worth waiting for.
The three images are sourced from Wikimedia Commons. First comes The Embrace by Auguste Rodin, then William Adolph Bouguereau’s Admiration (Cupid). The final artwork is Mary Cassatt’s Maternal Caress.