Thursday, October 7, 2010

Human Touch

I've been feeling sad a lot lately.

When I've searched my feelings, to try to understand why I've been feeling sad, I couldn't come up with a solid answer. It was a mystery.

Prayer helps. I get on my knees and I pour out my feelings to God. I ask for help, and I wait and I listen. And the Spirit is present as a comforter, reassuring me that I am loved, that I am good, that my Heavenly Parents are proud of me, that I have much to contribute to my family and the world around me. Recently, the Lord has also offered me this: The Spirit whispered to me the other morning that my sadness -- like any affliction -- could be a reminder that I belong to the Lord, because I find such deep comfort in him. It also connects me to the world around me. It makes me more sensitive to the sadness and pain of others, makes me want to reach out more.

Last night, I woke in the middle of the night, and it finally dawned on me why I have been feeling sad. I first began to notice increased feelings of sadness some time in August, after I returned to Minnesota from the Sunstone Symposium, where I had experienced some incredible fellowship with other gay Mormons; so I thought maybe it was just that I was really hungry for a deeper level of fellowship that I had experienced in Salt Lake that I don't regularly experience here. But then last night I realized, a week after my return from Salt Lake, Glen moved out of our house and into his dorm on campus. He only lives three miles away, and we still see him at least once or twice a week, but we've certainly been sad not to have him around the house all the time. We've got a major case of "empty nest" syndrome. But I realized even that is not completely it.

A year ago last September, I convinced the law firm I work for to let me work from home, so that I could be a more constant presence for Glen, so I could be a better father. But since Glen moved out, I am now spending many more hours every week alone at home. A stay-at-home dad without a kid.

Monday, a friend of mine called seemingly for no reason. This friend is very in tune with the Spirit, so I feel certain that the Lord had had something to do with prompting him to call. He was concerned about me and he wanted to know how I was doing. I almost wept I was so happy he called. I told him I was feeling "isolated." I didn't know where the feelings came from. I wasn't even sure why I picked that word at the time. But it does describe what I often feel lately.

Is it possible that there is just a basic quotient of human contact that any person needs in order to feel balanced and healthy and whole? Is it that working alone at home and losing my kid has just tipped the balance into the unhealthy range?

Part of what helped me acquire this insight is that I've been reading Jonathan Langford's No Going Back, and there are is some interesting narrative in there that has prompted me to reflect on the relationship between healthy human touch and spiritual well-being. I realized that I have been "hungry" for touch lately. When Göran leaves in the morning, and when he gets home from work, he's been getting much longer hugs and kisses from me. I've been much more affectionate. (He doesn't mind! He's always wanted me to be a bit more affectionate!) I find I have also become a better, more sensitive, more responsive listener. I think all because of my increased need for human connection.

I can't imagine what my life would be like without some kind of life partner or companion. Göran and I are blessed to have an excellent relationship that has only gotten stronger and stronger over the years, despite bumps in the road we've traveled together. Loving touch is very important to both of us, and it is woven into the life we have together. Good morning hugs and kisses; hugs and kisses after coming home from work. Meeting for lunch. Eating dinner together. Watching TV intertwined on the couch. Holding hands at the theater, or in church, or at foster care meetings. Playing games together. Doing chores together. (I wash, he dries the dishes!) And -- as we both experienced when I was in Salt Lake last August -- neither of us sleep very well if one of us is not curled up against the other as we sleep.

We both take good care of our health. We eat right, we exercise. We don't smoke (and he drinks only very rarely and very little). We anticipate, God willing, having many, many more years together, perhaps adding another four or five decades to the nearly two decades we've been together so far, "growing old together." We are so much closer as a couple now than ever before in our relationship. Each year seems to bring us closer together. I can only imagine how intense our bond will be, if we continue to tend and care for our relationship as much as we tend and care for our physical health. I think I understand why it is that when couples live together into extreme old age, it is not uncommon for one to die shortly after the other.

I wonder about eternity...

I know it is possible to live alone. And yet... I have experienced a noticeable increase in sadness, just because of the reduced human contact that has taken place as a result of the teenager being around less. Where would I be without Göran? I'm not sure.

So I want to extend an invitation. Or make a promise. If you are lonely, reach out to someone. If you have no one to reach out to, reach out to me. I could use a little extra friendship right now.

If you know someone who lives alone, be a friend. Sit next to them in church. Invite them out to the movies or over to dinner more often. (Even though I don't live alone, I so often go to church alone, and it feels so good when someone sits next to me, or invites me to come sit by them!)

Give more hugs. Be kind.

Love one another.


Abelard Enigma said...

Is it possible that there is just a basic quotient of human contact that any person needs in order to feel balanced and healthy and whole?

I've wondered the same thing. I started working from home several years ago where my only contact with work associates was via email, instant messaging, and phone. Now that I'm unemployed, I don't even have that basic level of contact with other people.

It seems more than mere coincidence that my depression issues have increased over the same time period - and has escalated since I was laid off.

Of course, I have my wife and you have Glen, but I think we need more - we need interaction with other people and not just with our intimate life partner. We are, after all, social beings. We tend to cluster in groups, be it family, work, clubs, religions, etc. We also tend to live in close proximity to one another in towns and cities.

Unfortunately increasing our social interaction can be easier said than done.

J G-W said...

Yes. And I think quality of interaction can have an effect as well...

For instance, it WAS a big boost to me to be able to spend time with other gay Mormons in Salt Lake. Being able to talk about common experiences and share in a way that I couldn't with almost anybody else really just felt like a huge relief to me. And being able to connect with real live people and get real live hugs just felt qualitatively different from interacting with other gay Mormons in cyberspace.

I know you've been struggling with depression, and I've sometimes assumed that with your unemployment it might be connected to the loss of the "breadwinner" role. I'm sure that's part of it... But, yes, based on my own recent experience, the human contact thing is huge.

M said...

Somehow you crawled into my heart and read what was written there. I can't do anything but cry and be so grateful for you.

J G-W said...

M - Thank you. I'm feeling somewhat vulnerable since writing it... It can be hard to write about these kinds of feelings. But it is totally worth the risk if what I have written is making a connection with someone else... Thank you! Thank you for making the connection!

MoHoHawaii said...

Would it be possible for you to go back and work at your firm's office more? Maybe that would suit you better.

Also, you haven't written much about your social life. Do you ever invite friends over for dinner? This is something that I like to do, and it gives me a great deal of pleasure to cook for others and enjoy their company. (People aren't great about return invitations, but I don't mind that anymore-- the pleasure I get out of hosting is enough for me.)

Also, if you started inviting some of your favorite ward members over, it would be a good way to warm Goran up to the idea that Mormons can actually be nice. :- )

I wish I lived closer; I'd love to come over and shoot the breeze.

calibosmom said...

Unconditional human contact is priceless. I'm sorry you've been sad-I know I will be a mess when my kids start to leave home. This morning however, I couldn't wait for one of them to leave-quickly! I'll be sure to hug her when she walks in the door from school though. John, I love what you have to say and would like your permission to feature this post on my new blog. I haven't even posted anything yet but "Human Touch" is perfect to start it off. My new blog is called "Love: It Does a Body Good." I just posted on my regular blog about what a life is worth. I'm ready to speak up-thank you for being a source of strength.

J G-W said...

Mohohawaii - Göran and I are hoping to take in other foster kids once we're sure that Glen is well-established on his own... We were going to wait at least a year. So I want to keep my work-from-home situation going for that.

So in the meantime, maybe we will just do more socializing, both in and out of my ward.

In response to my post, someone I know through my ward got in touch with me, and offered to get together once in while.

Mormons! Ya gotta love 'em! I should call my home teachers too, and get on their case. It's been a while!

Calibosmom - Thank you! And yes, you absolutely have permission to republish this post on your new blog if you wish!

J G-W said...

Mohohawaii, you have a standing invitation to come visit, any time of day or night, if you happen to be in town. I will be very disappointed if I ever hear you have business in the Twin Cities can don't call!

calibosmom said...

You have been republished! Thanks!

J G-W said...

calibosmom - Having taken a look at your new blog, I now understand why you felt a link to this post would be appropriate over there.

I hope you succeed in your goal of building bridges of love, and providing comfort to those who are in pain. There could be no more fitting tribute to Jared.

Anonymous said...

John, thank you for writing this. Greetimgs from Germany!

J G-W said...

Thanks, Anonymous reader in Germany!