A pair of Mourning Doves rested beside the massive zucchini leaves near the bird bath. They cooed, crouching in the warm soil and rubbing their heads along each other’s beak and neck. Scratching the soil with their feet, they created a shallow divot. They tucked themselves down into the earthen bowl to lay close together, front to tail, heads resting atop one another’s back.
I watched these two birds with a sense of reverence. Mourning Doves mate for life. I wonder if they possess an innate sense of intimacy, unlike humans who require an awareness of it for close physical contact.
Sharing my thoughts with a friend, I learned that the physical element of intimacy was the least of its definitions. That caught me by surprise; I thought that was all of its meaning. When later I pulled the dictionary from the shelf, I found intimacy to mean:
- a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group.
- a close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding of a place, subject, period of history
- an act or expression serving as a token of familiarity, affection, or the like: to allow the intimacy of using first names.
- an amorously familiar act, sexual intercourse.
Being a survivor of abuse, the word intimacy tends to strike a cord of fear in my heart. Discovering that intimacy is largely about a mutual knowing of someone else, I had to think if and where this was true in my life and redefine what I thought.
My first sense of this closeness brought to mind the woman who guided me into a writing career. She is four hours’ drive away, and we talk on the phone often. This seems obvious, though based on my original definition, I had only thought of her as a dear friend.
Another friendship, very different from the one above, is with a sister Benedictine Oblate who lives in New York. We’ve only met once and yet we share a deep spiritual connection with prayer for one another. The sense of deeply knowing the other increases as we read each other’s blogs or exchange emails. This is a friendship of absence; we are not involved with each other’s life. I would never be asked to a wedding or baptism—and yet the prayers that flow between us are intimate and, I believe, reliable.
There is a developing closeness with a lovely woman in Westphalia, Michigan, and her family’s open welcoming of my presence. I had spent a night at their home and, in the morning, found loveliness in sharing prayer time in the company of another—a rare occurrence for me. The lightness I feel in her presence draws me out of my anchoritic life and at the same time breathes air into it.
A loving reciprocal relationship with another person isn’t something I’d imagined possible. I enjoy the company of (most) others and my solitary nature never drew me truly close to anyone. I always felt distanced, different, and singular.
Maybe it’s my aging, my lack of family, or, of late, being called out of my hermitage to be a pray-er, that draws me to appreciate more the profoundness of knowing another. There is a depth of learning more about myself through their eyes.
At times it makes me shudder, this word intimacy, when I realize that being known so is to be vulnerable. It has also opened my eyes to the startling closeness of God.
Copyright 2014, 2017 Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB