“They could not live without petting.”
About 900 years ago, more or less, the king of Sicily – a fellow named Frederick II – decided he could conduct an experiment. We know that, among other darknesses, people with too much power lose a couple of important things: Empathy and Impulse Control. Fred was no exception.
He surmised that humans had a natural language that would appear on its own. So he took babies from their mothers, at birth, and isolated them. No one could talk with them or touch them, though their nutritional needs and such were taken care of. He never answered his language question for a simple reason. They all died. An Italian historian, Salimbene di Adam, suggested “They could not live without petting.”
As a recovering English teacher, I treasure words and their history. Integration comes from ‘to make whole.’ Let’s set politics, biases, religion, and such aside and consider this idea of disintegration as an essential and essentially devastating impact of our current situation. Have you ever had that dream of walking down the stairs and missing a step so that you wake up with your foot banging around? It’s like that, but right now the missing step is everything.
I have always been independent and uncomfortable in large groups. Yet I am no more immune to the dangers of ‘without petting’ – as a metaphor as well as in the true senses of things like hugs and handshakes – than anyone. So the question I want to ask each of you is “What are you doing to acknowledge this disintegration, candidly and honestly?” Further, what are we all doing about other peoples’ need for embrace? Think about that for just a moment. When we meet others’ needs for connection, we must meet our own at the same time. Cool, right? We give nothing away but only gain when we reach out. What we gain is love, the antidote to creatures like Frederick II.
Medium Well Done
We are blessed and cursed by our connectivity. Though I may be in lockdown, my computer is still internet-infected. Posting pictures of our dog, a video from the beach, and Twitter feeds, are pretty pain-free. They are also like memes compared to conversations and microwaves to cooking. John Ciardi, a wonderful poet, and writer, talked about “the pleasure of taking pains”, i.e. being painstaking. Merely posting keeps others from getting too close, like a permanent first date.
When all we put into our connections and community are hits-and-runs (social media posts), we are too close to the babies in Frederick’s experiment.
In our geographic distance, we do not have to be distant, and the current of our connections needs effort and attention.
From this habit, my new circle of friends – and we have never met within physical space – are close like neighbors. Like functional families. We spend time together. We don’t share only images, we share feelings. Living together, no matter the miles and hours apart. We can drop the shield of separation to be better for, and with, each other.