Human connection

Something magical happens when two human beings truly meet. Even though we run into people all the time, the quality of the meetings differs greatly. The spiritual teacher, Ram Dass, in a talk I listened to, described the special connection that happens when two kindred spirits meet. These are the moments of falling in love, love at first sight, and the first meeting of those who may become lifelong friends. When it happens, there is an immediate sense of familiarity, almost as if you’ve met before, perhaps in an earlier life? Ram Dass says this happens when ‘I’ see ‘you’ and know ‘you’ are ‘me’ and vice-versa.

On a more philosophical level, the Spanish theologian Raimon Panikkar writes of a paradoxical kind of relationship that is neither monist (‘I’ only) nor dualist (‘I’ and ‘you’). From the perspective of many Eastern religions and philosophies, the universe or God is essentially an ineffable Oneness, a singular, solitary source that manifests itself in the world and in living creatures. In this view, all relationships between beings are basically relationships of the One with Oneself. So when I, Terrill, relate to you, it is God-as-Terrill relating to God-as-you, and together, as God relating to Godself. In contrast to this, Western thought has made more room for alterity or ‘otherness’, as seen, for instance, in the Christian conception that we humans relate to God as an ‘other’, as an irreducible Thou. Panikkar tries to reconcile this tension by showing how both views can be true.

There are moments in life when we meet another, when our gazes interpenetrate and we realize each other’s divinity beyond our finite bounded bodyhood. Two droplets of sea-spray meeting and reflecting to each other not only their shared droplethood but also their shared oceanhood. Not everyone we meet and relate to can see beyond droplethood to oceanhood. You’ll know it when it happens, though: there is an instantaneous and inexplicable mutual resensation and recognition: an expansiveness, joy, and freedom.

That is, I presume, a type of connection that is unique to humans among the created beings. It is a quintessentially human type of connection. And it’s an experience that I want more of and that I want to provide to others inasmuch as I am able.

In the journal entries below, I recount some events from a three-day ‘daddy-cation’ I took back in 2015. Amber and I agreed to try to give each other two breaks from parenthood each year. This was my first that year. I flew to Kampala, did some shopping, attended a conference about indigenous Ugandan cultures and languages, and did some things I normally couldn’t do with young children in tow. More to the point, those three days reconnected me to my own humanity, a process which opened the gates of my mind and heart to connect with others after a long season of disconnection and misconnection:

I felt a bit paralyzed socially until the conference. Once there, something changed inside me when I found myself in a room full of educated, enlightened, interested, and competent people. It humbled me, softened me, and opened me up to others. I felt a renewed freedom, a new expansiveness to engage others and be engaged by others. The fear of being lied to, tricked, exploited, or begged mercilessly was gone. It’s now clearer to me how dehumanizing it is to be in relationship with vacuously self-serving people. Sure, many of the people at the conference (including myself) were still self-interested at some level, but they weren’t lying, deceiving, or begging at least. That social nourishment – in which I was also fed a lunch and given money as a stipend for attending – was the first big blessing of the trip.

The second blessing came on the same day when my taxi driver, Godfrey, told me about himself, told me his story. Godfrey is 48 years old, is Japadhola [tribally], has seven kids. He has a beautiful wife and daughters he is obviously very proud of. Something about the humanity of this human, the honesty of his life, soothed a sore wound of dehumanization within me. Sure, he wanted my business, my money, and was likely hoping I’d sympathize with his need for his kids’ school tuition. But, he was subtle and respectful about it. I liked him, and he liked me, and it wasn’t only because I could pay him. And even if he did see me as a living ATM, he managed not to heap uncouth requests, neediness, and aggressiveness on me.

The third blessing is that X invited me to coffee and a conversation…It felt really nice to have a chance to grow a friendship with him…He projects such a man’s man image, but there is a caring person behind the facade, and a person who is mature enough to initiate contact and invest in friendships. I really appreciated the gesture on his part….

The fourth blessing came when Godfrey told me that the Mugandan girl who worked at the air-time stand at Cafe Kawa thought I was ‘charming’ and ‘handsome’ and wanted to ‘attack’ me. It seems silly, I know. But it’s really not. For the last ten years I’ve been married, the level of attention I’ve been shown by the female sex dropped dramatically, as it should [I suppose?]. However, for a decade or two before that, I got lots of positive attention from females. It formed part of my self, my identity. I knew females liked me, meaning they could potentially love me if they knew me, such that my secure sense that God loved me came in large part from my knowledge of female love, actual and infinitely potential.

Since I’ve been married, that universal feminine attraction had to be whittled down to one female: my wife. True, she loves me dearly and loves me well – I don’t lack in that regard – but the choice I made, the choice I thought I had to make, to cut off feminine love from any other source has apparently caused some kind of retraction in my sense of self. Honestly, I’m a bit confused about the whole thing right now. I want to be faithful to my wife, and I know (or think I know) what sexual faithfulness is. I also thought emotional fidelity involved cutting off all or nearly all emotional ties to other women, but the practical result has been a contraction of the soul the does’t feel life-giving.

I’m reflecting on all this now because just hearing that another woman found me attractive sent me to Cloud 9. All day Thursday, I felt like a million bucks. I felt orders of magnitude more open to humanity, to their faces, their eyes – women and men – than I have in years. But why? It’s not because I was excited about having sex with that woman – though my body wanted to confuse this cosmic, transcendent love with merely sexual love. Perhaps it was a reminder from the universe that the Divine Feminine still loved me, and to the degree that divine femininity is inherently more relational than masculinity, that the Cosmos – God if you will – still loves me.

This isn’t all fanciful theorizing. Clear and perceptible and powerful things were happening to me. The potential or promise of love from a random woman totally reoriented me toward all people: random people on the street, my wife, my daughters, anyone…Jesus, and God. In short, LOVE.

So this is my weak attempt at reflecting on what happened to me. And why it happened when it did. And that it happened to me on a three-day get-away that I was praying would revive me.

After a delicious lunch of Lebanese shwarma at Acacia Mall, I decided to try to walk back to the guesthouse in Muyenga. It was going to be a long walk, but I was excited about it. And I LOVED it! That three hour and forty-five minute hike was the most blessed time of my whole trip.

I felt so free and alive. I felt peaceful, grateful, powerful, and full of love. I boldly sought and met people’s gaze. The men I met with a nod or an eyebrow raise of acknowledgement; the women I met with a smile. Their responses in kind were so rewarding, and to think how many years I have intentionally avoided this! (There’s a good reason for that: some people prey on such connection, and like predators, will devour your soul if you let them…).

I pray I never forget that walk, what it meant, how it felt.

And all for the professed desire of a Ugandan girl I never even met.

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