So it’s 3:32 am, and I just put my eighth grader on a plane for the East Coast. I drove through a pounding snowstorm to get to her school, and the possibilities for maudlin analogy are endless.
“Launching the kids”
“Unspooling the kite line”
“Letting loose and letting go”
And on and on. She’s going with her classmates at the local Christian school to see Washington. She danced around with her friends, and I waited in the car to see what would happen next.
Eventually, I hugged her goodbye, and they piled into the buses. The snow kept falling, and I tried to drive home. She’s launching, and I have to let go. It’s a beautiful thing, and actually does get easier with each child. Slightly.
Tears streamed down my face as I got lost, and missed my daughter. I am hopeless without Mapquest or a GPS. I found myself on the boulevard of broken dreams, somewhere around Sixth and Wadsworth.
I drove past the dim light of the weed shops, and the grey ghosts of lackluster motels and pawnbrokers.
What would it be like, I wondered, to park the Lexus at the nearest bus station, get on, and be driven into the unknown? Just me and my computer, an electronic Jack Kerouac, or Least Heat Moon. I didn’t pull over. I continued to drive looking for the equivalent of a twenty first century diner. Starbucks, anyone?
Eventually I found myself at Simms and Union, and pulled into a Denny’s. Astonishing, only Denny’s is open at this hour. It looked friendly, or at least familiar. Familiar. I grabbed my computer and set up, and was thunderstuck. Of course, this is the Denny’s that my family and I gathered at when my mom died in January. I snapped my computer shut and left.
I drove around aimlessly for a while, thinking about the terrible date I had had several hours earlier. Dante wrote “Abandon All Hope, Ye Who Enter Here” on the inscription to the first gate of Hell. How appropriate.
Previous that day I had received a friendly call from a man I had met at a Meetup. I had spent a morning with him on a hike, and thought I might like to get to know him better. We agreed to meet at a local coffee shop that afternoon, and I still felt dirty that night.
I started to time him, which is rude, I realize. Funny, but rude. He talked for forty seven minutes before asking me a single question. When he started to talk about the kind of birth control he and his wife used, I got out of there in a hurry. What a hopeless, arid waste of time.
It got me to thinking about the lush greenness of intimacy. I am built to respond to intimacy, personal connections with other human beings. I think most of us are.
The word “intimacy” is a tricky one, like “love”. Most people don’t use either one very well, and Christians often don’t bother to unveil what God wants for us with intimacy. Sexual intimacy is what most people think of when they use the word, and that makes me scratch my head in puzzlement.
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
-The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christians at Philippi, when he wants to encourage them to be humble, like Jesus was. (Phil 2:3-4)
Am I the only one with intimate friends? Friends who will very often humbly set their own interests and needs aside in order to consider mine? I can’t be. Chris’s death has brought me many surprises, and the discovery of intimate friends is one of them. What does that look like, anyway?
As we can see, God asks us not to do anything out of selfishness or conceit. Instead, to value, or consider, others as more important than ourselves. Not that the other person is more important, but we are to act is if they are.
When I left the date I was describing, the man surprised me with a blind grab toward intimacy. He locked me in powerful hug and kissed me on the cheek. Yuck. Doubly offensive, as I am toucher by nature. I hug my friends, massage my tired children’s shoulders, give footie rubs to fellow dancers, and walk arm in arm. But don’t you dare touch me romantically unless you have an inkling that I have given you permission to do so. I felt like taking a shower.
This man professed to be a Christian, and was a selfish jackass. What a depressing, arid waste of time.
I got to thinking about intimacy in detail. How intricately intimacy and touch are intertwined. My children tell me what is hidden in their innermost hearts when I am scratching their backs as they drowse off to sleep.
My mother gave me some of her most precious memories when I massaged her sore feet before she died.
My coaches have evolved to be some of my most intimate friends as well. If you think about it, it only makes sense. Brook, one of my first dance coaches, was a deeply caring, concerned man. I started with him about six months after Chris died, and was in a very odd place. It was as if I was a burn victim, and simply couldn’t stand to be touched. Brook was a great intuitive, and a hard taskmaster. I was determined to heal, and one of the things I was going to reclaim was waltz. Those of you who have been with me for a while know that I love to waltz, and Chris and I were good. The first time I told Brook I wanted to waltz again, we made it about halfway across the floor before I soaked his shoulder with tears.
As you know, the ‘advanced embrace’ in ballroom connects the body centers, shoulders and hips, and is energetically drawn UP and TOGETHER. When you get good, the unity of purpose is energizing, and intimate. Partners joke around, ask about families, laugh, get irritable, and in my case, cry until wounds are washed away. It’s really very safe, if you care even a little about each other. Brook was the soul of patience, and the dialogue looked something like this:
Victoria: (weeping against Brook’s shoulder) I’m sorry, Brook.
Brook: It’s okay. Dance is like life, it can be hard. Do you need a tissue?
Victoria: Yes. Sorry about your shirt.
Brook: (chuckle) It’s ok. Let’s get back to work.
Brook never go of me, and nearly two years later, I waltz with joy.
Todd, my current dance coach, often doubles as my therapist. I’ve long thought you can’t be twitchy about being touched if you want to be a better dancer, and the best coaches ignore those kind of boundaries completely. Todd will adjust my spine, rotate my shoulders, tilt my chin, align my pelvis with my body core, all kind of things while talking a mile a minute.
It’s almost as if vulnerability is automatic, as someone that close to you physically will notice tension instantly. I had had a lesson with Todd a few days ago, and he noticed something wrong immediately.
Todd: (Warming waltz up with me to Seal’s “Kiss From a Rose” ) Victooooria, you’re all tense! What’s wrong?
Victoria: (Waltzing in tears)” I fought with someone I care about, Todd.” BOOM! Front and center. It’s hard to be guarded when someone is six inches from your face, and literally connected to your hip.
Intimacy is also a judgement call. As a single woman, boy, is this difficult! When I was married, it grew easier and easier to read the man I loved as the years flowed by. Not that ours was an easy marriage, by any means, but I grew to be a student of Chris’s, and it got to be pretty easy to figure out what was on his heart.
I misjudged one of my new Meetup friends to be more concerned with me than he actually was, and he blew a cork. I treated him in a way that I treat the ‘top tier’ of my friends, those that I know, from the bottom of my heart, are concerned enough about me that boundaries of all sorts matter very little. I am concerned with them the same way.
Matthew and I are friends, but not for so long. A powerfully built man, he works an upside down schedule, and is often up at odd hours, like me. We have a lot to say, and can keep up.
Matt’s birthday is soon, and in my typical, take-no-prisoners, no negotiations allowed way, I thought about pulling a big, surprising birthday stunt to get a grin out of Matt. I did it surreptitiously, and Matthew got wind of it, and came at me with both guns blazing.
Suddenly I was a ‘plotter’, and a ‘schemer’ and an embarrassment to a new friend.
I was doing what came naturally to me, and trampling completely over what came naturally to someone else.
I related this to a handful of my intimate friends. As they love me, they used words like ‘over reactive’ to describe Matt. Perhaps. But the few intimate friends also gently remonstrated me. He’s a man, Victoria, so by nature different than you. He’s allowed to be solitary, he’s allowed to be whatever he wants. Go and apologize.
” Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Hmm. Some Christian I was. I apologized.
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome, Chapter twelve, verse eight.
I guess humility is a part of intimacy as well. Matthew did not humiliate me, and accepted my apology with grace. He offered a humble apology for his own reactivity.
Whether Matthew and I will actually get to the point of being intimate friends remains to be seen. I couldn’t know this weak spot of his, but now that I do, I’ll protect it. Perhaps he’ll protect me from my own impulsiveness. Or perhaps not.
As for me? What Jesus and my friends have taught me to do, I’ll do so for others.
We shall see.