So, today, I get to write about sex. Well, I’m not going to, because this is Anna’s Jewish thoughts, and not that kind of blog, but I could. Because today’s word is ‘know’ and that means sex, right? At least the bible says so! “And he knew her” and then they had a baby. Sex is definitely intended in the use of the word.
The connection between knowledge and sex is one that deserves to be explored, even though that word makes people queasy. What was the bible thinking? Maybe someone long ago thought that to know someone, it’s important to be very close. Maybe that led to the idea that sex was involved. I already talked about the challenges with understanding another person two days ago, so now, when the challenge is greater, when it’s knowing rather than just understanding, words are clearly not going to be enough. I’m not going to know someone who I’ve talked to a whole lot, if I can’t even really understand her.
No, it’s not words, it’s intimacy, and from a simple, old-fashioned perspective, physical intimacy that leads to knowledge. Not sex, necessarily, but some form of intimacy – of physical sharing. I know people better if I hug them, hold them, bring them things, play with them, give them backrubs, sing with them, hold their hands, cuddle them; any kind of intimate and intense connection contributes to knowledge. Heck, I even know people better if I fight with them!
And it’s vital. Being known – being really heard and understood and accepted as exactly who I am – that’s something I crave, and maybe all of us need. Its lack is a reason people who kill themselves will occasionally write in their goodbye notes – no one knows what I’m really like. It’s described as a reason for marriage and divorce. “He’s the only one who truly knows me.” “She doesn’t know a thing about me any more.” It’s a big deal.
It’s so much of a craving that people will compromise aspects of who they are in exchange for being known. I certainly will. I’ll put on a mask that will get people to like me more, I’ll wear or not wear things, I’ll try to say the right things or do the right things so that people will want to be closer to me, to be more intimate with me, to know me. This, of course, is ridiculous, because they just know the presentation-me and I feel even less known and more hollow.
Many of us walk around with the presentation masks that we hope will get us known. Maybe that’s why we want intimacy. It’s during the intense touching and holding that love-making involves that those masks have a chance to b dropped and that we can get to know the people we hide. Oh, I know. There are other ways to be intimate, and it is possible to have sex with no intimacy at all. Still, it’s a simple path to intimacy, readily accessible to many and fairly satisfying in and of itself.
But it can be scary! Sex, misused (and it often was in the bible) is terrifying and dreadful and one wonders how anyone could see any knowledge or connection there. Forced intimacy is so scary and disgusting, in fact, that as well as presentation-masks, we create privacy-walls, ways that will keep us safe from even the most minute forms of forced intimacy. Maybe I don’t want to answer a question that feels challenging or intrusive? Maybe I’ll just ignore the person asking or answer rudely to make that person go away. Maybe I’m not sure if I want that person to know me, even on a superficial level? Maybe I’ll simply be nice and bland and friendly and answer “Fine. Ok. Nothing. ” when someone tries to break in. Maybe I’ll be “too busy” to meet, mention my many chores, complain of the proverbial headache. It’s not hard to hold people so far at bay that there’s no touch between them at all.
It’s possible to swing so far into the direction of privacy-walls that one is never real, never known. This is not only unhealthy, as it can leave a person feeling truly alone and uncared for, but it’s also cruel. Sure, no one wants un-asked for intimacy thrust upon them. Yet we want to be known so badly and so much that being unknown is still one of the crueler punishments that can be inflicted by a group on a person. Being shunned, excommunicated, ignored, given the silent treatment – these are all harsh responses to people for offences – ones that hurt a lot.
Somewhere, we have to make space in ourselves for healthy touch, for intimacy that nourishes. For me, this Elul is such a time. It’s an opportunity to remove the privacy-walls and the presentation-masks and allow myself to touch. I have to be careful not to force intimacy on those who don’t want it, but all I need to do is look around and I will find people who also crave being known, both within my family and outside of it. We will find intimacy we can share together, using touch (appropriate touch -come on, I told you it wasn’t that kind of blog) to get closer, not further away. Together, maybe we can start to know each other, just a little bit more.