There’s something strange that happens to me nearly every time I return to Germany after a summer away. Those of you who know me well might not be too surprised by the weirdness of this, but those of you who haven’t been acquainted with the “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” version of me might read this and consider turning me in to the psych ward.
It’s hard to describe–but it’s very real. I think it’s change-induced. Or many it’s a bit of latent loneliness I thought had dissipated years ago. What I do know is that it’s an urgent feeling of needing to be “hemmed in” or “boundaried.” The sensation of being too dispersed or scattered (in an existential way), too disconnected, like particles free-floating and yearning to be contained. It’s nearly imperceptible, but potent in its persistence–like a constant static hum in the body and the brain. I wish I could describe it better… It might be the psychological equivalent of what the little girl in the yellow life-jacket is feeling–suspended, flung…but without the promise of gravity doing its work.
The impression is so strong that it keeps me awake at night, and it’s so pressing that I’ve developed an unusual solution that helps me to find sleep: I take all the cushions off my couch and line both sides of my bed with them, leaving just enough room for me to fit in between them, and I make sure I have one of my stuffed dogs on each side of me, so there’s always one at my back and one in my arms. I know…there’s therapy for people like me! But I assure you it works! It makes me feel–even if artificially–hemmed in, enfolded, curtailed.
Why am I telling you about my private sleep practices? Because there’s a parallel that’s been trotting around inside my head for a few days. What is it about humans that “wires” us for connection? What is it, from our first breaths of life, that makes us long to be covered, enveloped and embraced?
Even newborn infants in hospital nurseries are swaddled after birth, wrapped tightly in a cocoon designed to hem them in and, in doing so, make them feel safe and “boundaried.”
For me, the craving is a temporary blip on my emotional radar: I know it will pass within a couple of days, when routines get reestablished and I get acclimated to living alone again. But as BFA’s opening comes closer, ushering in dozens of new students, and as some of our graduates head to college for the first time, it is they who are most urgently on my mind. I wonder who will bind them up with safety and warmth. As present and real as God is, He is also invisible and non-tactile, and in times of great change, nothing comforts more than closeness. How often has He used people to be expressions of His protection and care in my life, and how can I begin to pay that kindness forward? I’d like to encourage all of us to seek ways to “swaddle” those among us who will be feeling disconnected, suspended, or unsafe in the weeks ahead. I’m not referring to tightly wrapped blankets or stacked couch pillows! I’m talking about kindness–gestures, smiles, and words that say, “You are not alone, you will survive this, and I’ll stand right here beside you until your world settles down again.” Seeing someone who looks lost and asking if we can help them. Seeing someone sitting alone and asking if they’d like company. Seeing someone hard at work and simply joining in the task. If we have, at any time in life, been shored up by the presence of others, we owe it to those around us now to provide the same support for them.
But “What if I’m the one needing to be enveloped?” you might ask. How could you possibly be the person who will stand alongside another when you have such urgent needs of your own? My conviction is that those of us in need will also feel bolstered and assuaged if WE start ministering to OTHERS, looking beyond ourselves, and investing in a greater good. Try it. You might be surprised at the comfort that comes from comforting others…there’s a Biblical principle there!
Stepping off my soap box now…and posting a
for the following segment!
In case you haven’t figured it out, I’m now back in Riedlingen. It didn’t really hit home until I was watching the news last night and came upon a report you would NEVER, EVER see on American TV! (We’re talking a snowball’s chance in hell, folks!) The story covered a gathering of 600 nudists on the Aletsch glacier in Switzerland who posed for a photo shoot in order to bring attention to global warming (like Al Gore hasn’t done enough on that front!). In the States, a newscast might have alluded to the event before moving on to more kosher stories. But in Switzerland? They treated their viewers to looooong, protracted (and close-up) video shots of all those lovely naked Swiss people standing on the flank of one of the Alp’s tallest mountains dressed in nothing more than flip-flops and goosebumps! I laughed until I thought I’d popped an intestine. Oy, the AMAZINGNESS of European openness!! And what’s more amazing is that it’s not even a moral issue here. “It’s just a human body–and we all have one!” I’ve deliberately blurred the picture below, to avoid injury to your retinas, but I couldn’t resist passing on the proof that the story really did happen! That blurry brown area in the lower right corner is a handful of the 600 Helvetians in birthday suits waiting for their pictures to be taken…
And finally–for all my Canadian friends who have lived in draught-scorched lands for way too long, here’s a breath of fresh black forest air and stunning German greenness to prove to you that the rest of the world is not as dry and brittle as your corner of North America! I wish you could all join me on a wog through the lush hills pictured below–part of my daily exercise circuit.