Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Beauty of (non-sexual) affection

Let's face it - I'm not a touchy guy. I like my space. I don't even like standing close to people, which is why you'll usually find me a good distance away from the crowd at a party - or going to the state fair on a day the least number of people will be there.

But space isn't really an option with a toddler. You have to touch them and hold them - they invade your space because they want you to read them a book, or play pat-a-cake, or sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat." Evidentally, my rendition of "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" is unsurpassed. As is my rendition of "Itsy-Bitsy Spider."

My toddler also likes to give hugs and kisses. Where she got that from, I have no idea. (To the left is her planting one on my chin.) And I don't know if it's true or not, but I like to think she gives hugs and kisses for me. Not for her, as if she's taking a piece of me for herself, but instead giving a piece of herself to me. (I have a really smart toddler, to be that self-differentiated. ;-)

This idea of affection is a shift in thinking for me. Most of my life I've considered that people were trying to take pieces of me when they were trying to give me affection - they were making themselves feel better, or trying to fulfull some sexual urge for touch. At a relatively young age, I decided that is what affection is - getting what you need through touch. I just wasn't interested because I neither wanted to allow a person to steal from me, nor did I want to steal.

But affection, I've found, is about giving. It's not about stealing what you need, but about giving yourself away. The beauty that can occur with non-sexual affection is that it can give peace to those who need to be consoled, it can express gentleness and kindness. It can express joy and patience. The beauty of affection is that it can mediate love. Not the sexual/eros love so many adults immediately think of, but real love that heals and restores, that gives peace and expresses fondness.

So, I've become much more open to giving myself away through affection. I actually initiate hugs now. Upon occasion, I've been known to give a holy kiss or two. Not because I want something from a person, but because I want them to understand how welcome they are in my presence. I want them to feel the fondness I wish to show. I want to give them a message of love mediated by affection.

But you know what I've found? I get something in return - better memories. I remember the person better, and can empathize and pray for them better. For instance, I remember so much more about the last people I gave holy kisses to than I would have otherwise. I remember how I caught one on the edge of the eyebrow rather than on the forehead, I remember how one turned their head away and I ended up kissing the top of their head, I remember the smell of one, and the skin texture of another.

Sound creepy? You bet. That's why holy kisses should be used judiciously and sparingly. But guess what - I remember those to whom I've shown affection (not just holy kisses) so much more vividly in my prayers. I feel connected with them, empathetic towards them. Not because I stole a piece of them or forced myself to care, but because I gave a piece of myself away. I'm able to love them as myself because they have a piece of me.

Strange how that works, huh? Strange how you give yourself way, expecting and wanting nothing in return, but instead get back a life more colorful and beautiful than you expected.

Now, since all this affection talk is over, I'd appreciate it if you take a step back. I like my space.


alethia said...

what an absolutely sweet picture. i want to meet your baby(toddler). is she friendlier than the little canadian? cuz steve's ego took a hit w/ her.

Benjamin said...

I think she is indeed friendlier than the little Candian. Better breeding and all.

She's a bit of a flirt, so I think she would try to get in Steve's good graces. They'd hit it off well.

So, when are you going to come visit?

Jessica said...

dude, i hope amy doesn't read this...y'all will be in big trouble. huge. she thinks her kid is head and shoulders above the rest, and i'm afraid that she's too dainty to handle any objections.