A friend sent me the link to this post by Kathy Escobar earlier this week. Go ahead and read it before you continue reading my post. That way we're on the same page. Using the same emotional lexicon.
I gasped at the accuracy of her words to describe what I have been thinking and feeling for awhile, but didn't have the language or the bravery to admit. I'm still nervous about admitting this need to be held. I loathe feeling needy. And my need to be held is great. Huge. Enormous. This is one of those technicolor truths I've referred to recently, and my heart is palpitating as I own it. Pal-pi-tating. I'm afraid that if you're one of the people I see regularly that you'll see this admission written across my face and it will be too big a burden to bear. That you'll feel some added pressure to start holding me. I promise I won't start carrying a sign that says, “I need a hug, pronto.”
This passage of Escobar's is illuminating. It takes my breath away every time I re-read it:
“Over the years as I began to ponder and experience what “incarnational” meant—“God, in the flesh” through meaningful, honest, raw, messy relationship with other people—I began to experience God’s healing in a new way that has brought so much greater freedom.
God is at work, in us and through us.
And there are a whole of people in this world in desperate need of being held.
But I’m not only talking about crawling up into Jesus’ lap and being held in a spiritual sense.
I’m talking about flesh and blood and spirit, all tangled up together in a real hug with a real
Where we are held.
Where skin touches skin.
Where some weird and beautiful and unexplainable security is passed from one person to another in all the right ways.
Where we experience a sense of God’s love in ways we can’t even put words to.
That isn’t something just physical. It is deeply spiritual, too.”
I visited with a childhood friend two days after my grandmother died. He was in town for a conference. We've been in touch frequently over past months, but we've only seen each other once in 25 years until that Wednesday.
His friendship has been fortifying. His humor has been a balm. His confidence and belief in my abilities to cope, to write, to mother, to do everything that needs to be done has been scaffolding to my wavering heart, head, and confidence.
I looked at him and asked, “Could you just hug me for a minute?” He generously agreed. He put his arms around me and held me tight. I clung to him. And I began to weep. He didn't flinch as the tears streamed down my face and my body shook with the sobs that have laid dormant for months—maybe years. He spoke quietly about the grief of my grandmother's passing and of the difficult year I've weathered. I kept crying, and he kept holding me. He suggested that we sit, and that he hug me more.
He sat down and I climbed into his lap. I literally folded my body into a ball and felt his arms wrap around me. I put my arms around his neck and started to exhale. I felt places inside me—rooms whose doors I had closed to protect me—begin to open. My breathing evened. I felt a “sense of God's love” as Escobar describes. We sat there for a long time. He reminded me that he would always be my friend. His words compounded the benefits of his holding me. I felt what Escobar described as a “weird and beautiful and unexplainable security” as my friend held me and honored my layers of grief.
I know that being held is part of the prescription for my aching heart and the hollow loneliness that takes hold of me on occasion. I know that because for hours and days after my friend held me, I felt better. The weight I'd been carrying didn't feel so heavy. I also wondered what I would do when his conference ended and he returned to his busy life one state away.
I've managed to keep the heaviness at bay for more than a week, but I can feel it beginning to creep back in. I am getting better at recognizing these moments for what they are--fleeting moments of intense emotion. I let myself feel the feeling and then I let go of it and allow it to pass like a cloud in the sky. This technique of self-soothing definitely works, but sometimes the storm clouds last longer than I'd like.
The other night after work I retreated to the rocking chair in my bedroom. I sat still and began to let go of my weariness from the day. I watched the cloud formations. Hot pink and orange painted the sky as the sun began to set. I breathed and watched the beauty of the evening unfold before me. Without realizing it, I'd begun to rock in the chair. I thought about the baby I used to rock in this same chair and about the comfort I felt holding her as I rocked. I lamented for a moment that she wasn't little enough to tuck under my chin and against my shoulder as I had when she was an infant. And then the thought crossed my mind, Maybe this chair can hold me and rock me when a friend's arms aren't available. I contemplated how the rocking motion brought comfort in a way I hadn't anticipated when I first sat down. It is certainly no substitute for a loving friend's embrace, but it's better than stewing in the momentary juices of sadness and anxiety. I am grateful for the myriad ways comfort and relief find their ways to me as I practice self-care and self-acceptance. And I look forward to a time when my hugs are able to be a refuge for someone else.