Be affectionate

This spring marks 8 years since I’ve been in love. It was that kind of love that awakened the butterflies in my tummy and lifted my feet to the clouds. I was hers and she was mine and as long as we stayed off that ground called reality, we could dance on those clouds indefinitely.

Indefinitely turned out to be 5 months.

Neither of us made long term commitments or true gestures of service toward each other. Mostly we just enjoyed making out or holding hands in the car. Ok, so maybe it wasn’t love. But the affection sure was nice.

But affection is not just for those (in my case) rare and deep relationships. Affection is a life need as much as air or water and without it we wither, we wilt and we die.

I first felt this in my time in Japan, discovering stretches of months where I hadn’t hugged anyone or even shook a man’s hand. Now with five months behind me of living on my own in Kyrgyzstan I’m starting again to feel the ground about me become parched and cracked.

I’d be good to learn to be more affectionate and open to closeness like most Kyrgyz people show so well. I don’t know if it’s a deep-seated piece of Kyrgyz culture or if it simply stems from situations where 40 people are squeezed together in a van, but here people seem to wear their personal-space bubbles like body suits. Touching is ok.

People lean in when sharing pictures on a cell phone, brush your knee as you sit cross-legged around a meal of plov, and stroke your arm in condolence. You can see young female friends walking down the street hand-in-hand or guys in their 20s with an arm around each other’s shoulders as they walk. Handshakes sometimes last for an entire conversation and won’t end until one is pulling the other towards home for some tea. Neighbor kids playing in the street look out for each other too, and if one falls, an older kid will be quick with a kiss to make it all better. Even the more manly young men will at least head-butt upon meeting a friend.

And sometimes affection just falls in your lap

Butting heads is not quite the same sensation as holding hands with a cute little butterfly whisperer, but it definitely shows you you’re loved. And that’s the good and right meaning of affection—that others feel close to you and desire to be close enough even to touch. So as I learn how much it means to me, I’m working on being affectionate to others as well. That means showing up at the door and returning that tiny and grimy, snot-smeared hug when I’m back from a weekend away. It means leaning on arms at story time and true bear hugs of reckless abandon that say I’m all-in. By being affectionate, we give each other that wonderful opportunity to grow and blossom, surrounded by flowery friends, in a well-watered and beautiful garden of life.

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