Intimacy Part 1: Participating in each other’s pain

What is intimacy? I was in a conversation recently where the topic of sex came up and the person said, essentially, “let’s call sex intimacy.”

Wow,” I thought, “maybe I haven’t really understood intimacy all these years.”

Sex is intimate, yes. It requires a vulnerability and trust that few other things do. Nakedness, touching, kissing, and sharing private thoughts and conversation can be intimate, but I would not say that intimacy and sex are equivalent. And, I don’t really like that people assume that other things are automatically disqualified simply because no one is lying in bed smoking a cigarette afterward.

With this in mind, my next several posts, will be about intimacy. I think this is really important because we need intimacy to live a fully engaged, authentic life. And this does not mean we must be in a sexual relationship for this to occur. Thank God. Otherwise, too many of us would be excluded because we don’t have a lover or partner.

In flipping this, I am surmising that simply being married, partnered, or having sex does not mean that our needs for intimacy are being met.

Let’s start with New York City. If you read my blog much you know I was in New York city just after Hurricane Sandy hit the region. My plane was one of the first to get into LaGuardia Airport on Wednesday. The following Sunday, I journeyed 1 1/2 hours to Long Island to play some music for a Baldwin church community.

Electricity was (and still is) out for some people. Transportation and internet was (and still is) unreliable. Some families had not been heard from. One woman shared that her 2nd story apartment with a balcony, just 1 block from the ocean, had been filled with water and she would have to purge everything she owned. People had been sleeping in cold homes, removed trees from their bedrooms, sat in silence, and prayed a lot.

Into this, I brought a little music. Let me tell you, friends, this felt like a very intimate act. And I tried to treat it with the gentleness and respect that such intimate acts require. I empathized. I told them that many of us across the US had been watching and waiting alongside of them. I reminded them that we held their fear and anxiety from a distance, watching the storm approach like an ill-fated train wreck, wanting to be there with and for them. And some of the hugs and tears that came from that “performance” reminded me that being a voice of understanding and solidarity can be the only way of love sometimes. And that performing per se, was not at all what I was doing there.

One sweet lady, after returning twice to hug me, presented me with a bowl of flowers. An older gentleman told me tearfully, “you can’t really know what this means to me.” Still others left large bills as a love offering. An intimate connection happened there – between me and 150 people. There was no heavy breathing; no being alone in a dark room; no horizontal hoochy-koochy; just being present and available to beautiful hurting lives.

When we hold each other’s pain with tenderness, we are participating in an intimate act – a co-act. In these special moments, it was a community experience, birthed out of pain, vulnerability, and solidarity.

I am holding these precious people in my thoughts, prayers, and heart still. And I feel closer to them, to myself, and to what is holy because of this sweet time. I am full and connected and more alive because of it.

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7 Responses to Intimacy Part 1: Participating in each other’s pain

  1. Lisa Klingler says:

    You are a beautiful human being, Shannon!! Bless you!

  2. Ester says:

    This is incredibly poignant and beautiful. Thank you for sharing, Shannon!

  3. Joyce Frost says:

    That was really beautiful and so profound. You have such a gift for words, music, and connecting.

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