On Tuesday the Jones family is crowded into my office sitting in a semi-circle on chairs hastily borrowed from the auditorium. Nancy died last week. The matriarch. They are in various stages of emotional turmoil – the kind of thing one would expect. The kind of thing I’ve experienced before.
They are a timid clan. None of them able to make sustained eye contact for more than a few seconds before awkwardly looking away to relieve the tension they’re feeling at being here with a functional stranger and talking about the deep things of life and death.
It is the first time I have met the widower, as he hands me the life story of his wife of 37 years to summarize.
Relative number 1 I have met once before – a brief, formal handshake at some meaningless event, as I recall. Relative number 2 sits with her two, moon-faced toddlers who stare blankly, un-smiling, vacuous. She is similarly flat; no emotional edges to feel for and peel back, slate-smooth.
Relative number 3, I am most familiar with, but this is not saying much. I have visited the group she is a part of several times in an official capacity. I visited her in the hospital once. Prayed for her. Read to her from the Bible. I have no idea if she cared. It seemed to me at the time that she simply expected this particular service to be performed for her, and being that it was in fact performed, one could speculate that she experienced an almost-emotion akin to satisfaction – but you couldn’t tell by looking.
So, this monochromatic group sits before me and is asking me to do a job for them. These people whom I really don’t know at all are hiring me to create some emotional context for them to grieve. They need a professional actor/priest.
I’m being asked to perform. To plumb them for un-named feelings and weave them into some coherent performance that will make them feel something that is definable.
I’m being asked to provide a professional service. They are saying, “Be our emotions for us. Put some kind of public face on the things we have never been able to express ourselves, and are only now overtaking us. We’re scared – it’s all going to come out with spit and bile and coughing. We’ll gag on it – we’ll stop breathing and pass out, panic is overtaking us – what is this thing that is happening to us?! Give us some order!”
If they had more experience with grieving, the adults would , at least, recognize that orgasms are a close kin – the “little death”, it’s called in France.
“Don’t be afraid….let it come.
Let it overtake you – fall backwards into the warmth of it all.
Don’t think about the stained sheets, or the noises we make.
Let it flow – there is no judgment. You were built for this. Let it come. Let it come.”
But they will not.
They will instead ask me to be their whore. I will fake an orgasm for them. I will throw my head back and scream with my wrists crossed over my head and my eyes shut in pretend abandon. They will watch with a mix of longing, horror, desire, disgust and a certain awareness that it is at least mostly…an act.
But somehow the act of watching it, will for them be enough. They can convince themselves that they have mourned fully and deeply, and so go back to work on Monday – carrying the dirty little secret that they’ve been with a whore, and no one at the office will ever know.
What strange little things we do. How we rub up against each other like this. How we build institutions to make it possible. How we are taught from the earliest that we must manage our experiences in a certain way. That they must be put into a context FOR us.
For me to do this is obedience. I am repulsed by the idea on a certain level – yet I see it’s necessity. I see it reflected in every culture, throughout all of history. Yahweh rejected LITERAL temple prostitution – but he instituted a kind of ritualized one – one that didn’t require the actual act of intercourse.
Why this is important to Him – I do not fully understand. But I know that it is true, and I am a player in this intimacy drama. I must obey.
Hebrew 8085 Shaw Maw to hear intelligently.
Greek 5219 to HEAR UNDER to listen attentively.