Definition: "physical expressions of fondness or liking."
The photograph below, taken by Ronda Payne, appeared on mrtimes.com yesterday, a local online newspaper, and, the moment I saw it, I was drawn to it.
The article that accompanied it, titled "Animal interaction at Holyrood," written by Payne as well, detailed how people from local farms recently brought animals, such as rabbits, lambs, goats, and chicks, to an old people's home to help those with dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
Payne writes, "...the afternoon was designed to bring happiness and connection to some 124 residents of Holyrood [p. A3]." Further, she writes, in a 2010 study, '...the University of Adelaide School of Psychology found increased joy, pleasure, and relaxation, among other benefits, when dementia patients experience an "animal invention."'
The first thing I thought of when I saw this picture of Mary Mae Grinham nuzzling a lamb was my mother. My mother is in her early seventies, not as old as Grinham appears and not suffering from dementia, but I bet both have at least one thing in common--a lack of physical connection.
Since my parents divorced nearly thirty years ago, my father went on to meet another woman to love and marry, while my mother stayed on her own, seeing a few men early on but never settling into anything and since eschewing men altogether. This is not unlike Chris's mom and his sister, both of whom are also divorced and without meaningful, male companionship, and, consequently, physical affection from another human being in their lives. And, if you want to know, I think this is a damn shame.
As human beings, we're hardwired to need physical affection. Physical affection is about connection to another living thing, to the greater world of living things around us. When we connect to another living thing, whether it be a human being, or a pet, or, in the case of Mary Mae Grinham, an animal, we feel connected to everything else that's alive. Connection is the remedy for loneliness and isolation. It's also a critical way to feel validated, providing proof you matter to something else that lives and breathes.
I have no doubt millions upon millions of people around the world are not touched in a caring or affectionate way nearly enough--from Mary Mae Grinham, to my mother, to gay people who are not in relationships (and probably even some who are).
I'm not talking about sex. Sex is something else altogether (and, as many of us know, may not include tenderness or affection at all). Rather, I'm talking about simple touching and affection and connection and validation.
For every promiscuous gay man, who confuses sex for affection and maybe even love, I imagine one hundred, or even one thousand, gay men, who don't have anyone to touch them and show they matter.
I imagine young teenagers, still living at home, wondering--because they suspect they're gay and were raised to believe gay is bad--if they'll ever meet someone, who will want to touch them and show they matter.
I imagine thousands of gay men, young and old, living in apartments or townhomes or houses by themselves, wondering where that special man is in their lives--if he'll ever show up--and if they'll ever meet someone who will want to touch them and show they matter.
So, if you're one of those people, today, I'm extending a big hug to you. If I could be there in person to embrace you, to share my warmth with you, to prove you are worthy of affection, to show how terrific and wonderful and amazing you are, to help validate you in any way, I would be. I promise you that.
I don't care where you are, how old you are, or whatever your individual circumstances are, I have a hug for you. I care. I really do. And I want you to care about yourself, too. Because no one deserves to care for you more than you do. Please remember that. Please.
And never give up on finding someone to show you the affection and love you need. Never give up. He's out there. There are so many lonely people out there, needing the same things you do. You just have to be fully present in your lives and find each other. It will happen.
(This one's for the old fellow who used to live down the street from us in Victoria. Who lived in a small, old house, the yard overgrown with long grass and weeds. Who I knew from the way he looked at me was gay. Who lived alone. Who I saw come and go from his house alone. Who made me cry inside, when he walked by slowly and smiled as though regretting something, when I sensed he wanted to share a word or two, and when I failed to give him that opportunity. A special hug goes out to you. My thoughts are with you.)