A few years ago a position opened at the institution where I work, and I applied for it. If I got this new job, I would have the opportunity to oversee a variety of new and exciting projects and put my administrative know-how into overdrive. I wanted this job bad, bad! I ended up among the handful of candidates selected for an interview, and when it was all over, I anxiously awaited the verdict. I was heading to a meeting one day when the phone rang. A senior administrator at my university was on the line and began by telling me how wonderful I was and how much I was appreciated. My heart sank as this was surely a sign of bad news to come. And the bad news came.
A couple days later a colleague and friend came by my office with his two-year-old son, Bennett. My friend came to offer a word of cheer, and Bennett helped to lighten the moment. He was cherubic: rosy cheeks, blue eyes, and striking auburn hair. He tentatively made his way around my office while his father and I chatted. Bennett finally ended up behind my desk and beside me. Next, he looked up at me and in a charming but decisive voice spoke: “Hold me,” he said smiling broadly.
My office felt as if his baby words had filled it with moon dust—something magical but strange. I had to make sure I’d heard right. “You want me to hold you?” I asked, feeling unexpected excitement. He nodded. So while my colleague apologized profusely on his son’s behalf, I lifted the child to my lap, and he began playing with my locks.
In the days that followed, I kept going back to that precious encounter and Bennett’s words—short and simple, “Hold me.” And I realized that my fascination was with his uninhibited willingness to ask for exactly what he wanted, no shame attending.
Most of us in the Western world are accustomed to asking for what we want, in fact insisting on it. We demand outstanding service, often complaining if a lettuce leaf is out of place in our salad or a sales clerk looks at us the wrong way. Our lust for the latest technological gadget is bottomless. We are willing to brave Black Friday campouts and trample our fellow shoppers for some new videogame or cell phone as if we were in Half-Way Tree hustling for a seat on the last minibus for the evening. But how willing are we to ask for physical intimacy—a hug, a kiss, a cuddle—from those closest to us?
On the other hand, how willing are we to proffer our affection whether we are asked or not? How often do we deny the people in our life the benefit of our physical warmth and our tender touch? I was so thrilled to hold Bennett on my lap for those few minutes—to know that he found the span of my arms desirable and that he sized me up as someone capable of making him happy. I think very often we just don’t realize the benefit of our touch to other people—and to ourselves.
During this month when we celebrate Valentine’s Day and ponder the meaning of love, ask yourself this: When was the last time you felt comfortable asking someone aside from your child to kiss or hold you—especially at a time when you really needed it and nobody else seemed to know?
Despite all the glorious products and services available in our modern world, it seems that we are still challenged with securing affection and intimacy. This month as you are surrounded by the spirit of St. Valentine, consider doing two things:
- First, engage in an act of random affection! Yes, just take the time to reach out and touch, hug or kiss someone in your life whom you think will appreciate it but who probably wasn’t expecting your affection at that moment.
- Next, ask for an act of affection from someone you care about and whose touch you want to experience in that moment. Ask a wife to rub your feet, a boyfriend to cuddle with you in bed, an older relative to put her arms around you. Just take a page from Bennett’s book and say “Hold me.”
What I would give to have his courage, to be willing to ask my neighbor, a colleague, a friend to hold me at that moment when my heart feels like somebody threw it off Blue Mountain Peak. Or like Bennett, I’d love to be able to ask someone to hold me…just because.
Given the sorrow and anxiety that are part of the human condition, why not hold a friend’s hand for a few seconds when he receives bad news or give her a hug when you know she’s in distress? Better still, when you have your own moments of sadness or like Bennett just a joyful need for human affection, why not simply ask someone to hold you?
About the Author:
Andrea Shaw, Ph.D., is assistant director of the Division of Humanities and an assistant professor of English at Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale. She was born in Jamaica and is a creative writer and a scholar of Caribbean and African Diaspora studies. Her book, The Embodiment of Disobedience: Fat Black Women’s Unruly Political Bodies, was published in 2006. Her creative and scholarly writing have been published in numerous journals, including World Literature Today, MaComére, The Caribbean Writer, Crab Orchard Review, Feminist Media Studies, Social Semiotics, and FEMSPEC. She graduated from the University of Miami with a Ph.D. in English and from Florida International University with an M.F.A in Creative Writing.