Samain and the Moon of Thanksgiving
Tuesday gratefuls: Kate’s good days. Cottage pie. Rigel in the bed. Her licking my hand this morning. Kep peeking over the edge of the bed, “Get up, Get up!” Charlie Haislet, may his treatments succeed. CBE. The blues shabbat this Friday. Chess. Stefan Zweig. His Dark Materials. Phillip Pullman. Vaccines. Covid. Sleep. Electric blanket. Cool nights.
The other night Kep got up, turned around three times, and laid down with his back snug up against mine. I know this is probably weird to non-dog people and that some dog people say my dog will never be in my bed. Fair enough. For me, however, it was an affirmation of the hug. Of love between species. And, it got me thinking. About hugs and sex and general body contact.
When I was in Seminary in the early 1970’s, all of us had to go through the University of Minnesota’s sex education seminar. No, it was not pictures of penises and vaginas with pointers and the guy who couldn’t teach anything else in charge. No, this was a week long event, the chairs were bean bags, and there was the “desensitization” morning where they showed multiple pornographic films at the same time. The idea was to produce clergy who were not afraid of either their sexuality or the sexuality of their parishioners. Not sure whether it achieved that lofty goal, but it did make conversations about sex and sexuality easier.
“Thank you for the body contact.” We learned to say this whenever we bumped into someone or accidentally brushed up against another person. I know. But, it was the 1970’s. The purpose of this phrase was laudable, imo. Normalize body contact, don’t fear the touch of another. Of course, boundaries. Of course. But don’t treat contact with another as if it meant they had cooties. Or, Covid. Yes, in today’s Covid infected world this advice would be anathema, but Covid won’t last. Hugs and touching will.
Anyhow, I went immediately, as you might imagine, to the concept of dasein. Heidegger’s idea of being there, of being in the world, reminds us that our place in this world extends beyond the limits of our body, beyond our skin, into the worlds of the other. In some ways this is obvious since our sensorium collects information from all around us, even from very far away. In a variation on this idea I’ve seen recent articles suggest mind is not limited to our body either, and for some of the same reasons.
Existence before essence*. Wherever you may stand on this philosophical chestnut, hugs and sex and hand shaking and accidental bumps into another affirm the existence of an-other. If you think hard about being in your own body, you can come to the conclusion, as the Sophists did, that you and your body is the only thing that matters. In fact, you can stretch it to include the idea that you might be the only thing in existence. That’s solipsism. You’ll just have to trust me that you can get there logically, unless you already knew that. I reject it, as I imagine you might, too.
Though we might not go that far, it is easy, especially now during the wear a mask, don’t touch, wash your hands moment we’re all having, to not contact another warm body. Spouses and dogs, children being the important exceptions. Feeling Kep’s 102 degree body heat radiating from his body to mine made his presence very real. As did the weight of him. More than that. It was love that prompted him to lie down next to me, close enough that we touched. Kep’s dasein and mine became entangled for that time.
In my world existence does precede essence. Your presence and how you show up is much more important to me than your “human nature.” As my presence and how I show up is more important to myself than whatever human nature I might be said to have. We need reminding though of the flesh and blood reality of the other. That they are like us in some fundamental manner even if it’s not something we can understand or access. Hugs. Sex. Handshakes. Crowded rooms. Or, the simple act of a dog, a friend, a life partner.
Thanks, Kep, for the body contact.
*The proposition that existence precedes essence is a central claim of existentialism, which reverses the traditional philosophical view that the essence of a thing is more fundamental and immutable than its existence.Wikipedia