What is Being Close?

How can we grasp the elusive mystery of being close? What sense can we make of this profound event? Being close is standing openhearted with another, existing in spiritual intimacy. When I am close to you, I am being myself in your presence; I am responsive to you. I sense what you present; I see and hear you; I feel in reaction to you; I think about you. You matter to me.

The alternative is being closed to you, shutting you out--not seeing or hearing, not responding emotionally, not thinking of you. Not to be close is to be distant, to have my heart hardened to you. When I am closed I do not care; I see through you. My curtain is drawn; you do not matter to me. Though I am around you physically, you have no spiritual meaning to me; you do not exist as a wondrous other in the temple of my being.

Being close is an event, a happening--in contrast to a mere feeling or attitude. When we are close, something is going on. Certainly the event may include emotions and ideas; yet it is more. This significant experience is beyond the realm of mind. It is a practice.

Furthermore, it is a spiritual event rather than simply a physical happening. Only when spirit is at work can persons be close. Physical realities such as space and time though present do not constitute or qualify this occurrence. We can, for instance, be physically near without being spiritually close, or be far apart and yet near of heart. Most commonly, being close does include physical proximity. We can more easily be open to those near at hand. But not always. Because of certain risks (to be considered later), we may in practice be more safely open to those at a distance than to those near by. A faraway friend may be nearer my bears than is my next-door neighbor. Proximity in space has no inherent correlation with closeness of spirit.

Nor does time as measured by clock and calendar have any bearing on these events. Meeting is eternal rather than temporal in nature. When persons are close p it is as though time ceases to exist. It flies by or stands still. When spiritually close persons are separated physically for some period of calendar time--even years--that chronological gulf is dissolved once they are together again. Though the years have actually passed, it is as though they have not. Such friends-of-heart can pick up where they left off, untouched by the temporal gap.

Clocks may continue to tick and calendars flip their pages, but intimacy transcends time. Chronology is experienced as eternity. Now is forever when people are close. Or perhaps more accurately, forever is now; the everlasting becomes present tense.

The eternal nature of intimacy is a fact, not a mere forgetting of time. Absent-minded people may forget time; present-minded persons, as required for intimacy, transcend time. In the event of being close one slips from the secular world which is properly measured by chronological devices into the sacred world which submits to no such human inventions. The holiness of intimacy is beyond the divisions of minutes, days, and years.

In such loving, one knows God who, as John said, "is love." And "with God" Peter added, "a thousand years is as a day, and a day as a thousand years." Closeness is the business of eternity.

These spiritual occurrences are intensely personal--that is, they involve me as a person, but do not necessarily involve you. I can be close to you without you being close to me. My openness to you may or may not be reciprocated. When two are mutually close the mystery is compounded yet the nearness of the other is essentially irrelevant. I can be close to you whether you want me to or not. I can, with practice, even learn to be close to my enemies.

Even though your openness may encourage my own' it is not required. Indeed, it may inhibit me. Teenagers are often closer in heart to movie or TV idols who are oblivious to their existence than they are to the boy or girl next door. In religion many persons are closer in spirit to images of Jesus or the Virgin Mary than to any human being. Although such individuals presume the openness to be mutual, it can exist without any reciprocation. Should Jesus, in fact, be a myth, the spiritual intimacy some feel would be unaffected. Being close is a personal, spiritual event, unrelated in the final analysis to the other person.

To define closeness as an event is also to place it in the happening rather than in either party. Although there are personal requirements for any one who would be close, still the closeness is in the event. That is to say, the locus of the e experience Is between the persons. No personal matters such as, age, education, wealth, or station in life have any essential bearing on the happening. Closeness often occurs between the most apparently unlikely prospects--an old man and a young child, a college professor and an uneducated workman, a young wife and an old priest. Strangely, all the social facts which seem so important in other regards lose their significance in the miraculous encounters of persons being close.

How does it happen? How do the events of closeness occur? Often they occur under cover of a friendship. While acting friendly two persons may discover themselves getting close to each other. Or closeness may occur in a romance. Lovers inevitably experience a heightened sense of nearness. Or the event may happen in a family relationship. A husband may open himself to his wife, a wife to her husband; a sister may get near her brother. But often strangers) nameless persons in a crowd--on a plane, at a bus station, in a store--find themselves more spiritually open to each other than even to members of their own families. Persons who pass in the night often come closer of heart than do relatives or friends in the day.

Emergencies, hardships, and tragedies may become the occasions of human closeness. Battlefield buddies, forced by war to depend on each other, often cross over the barriers of human separation. Shared poverty, hunger, or social deprivation can become avenues for closeness. Peace-marchers, political allies, and fighters for justice often find themselves spiritually open to one another before they know it. Just fixing a flat tire together can bring nearness when hours or years of proximity have provided no occasion for stepping over the walls which divide us. Once, on the autobahn in Germany, a busload of tourists divided by seemingly impenetrable social and geographical barriers, found themselves overcoming their self-constructed walls after visiting a brewery and facing their common need for a restroom.

Closeness occurs under many covers; yet none can contain it. Any relationship or circumstance may be the occasion for human intimacy, but none can require it. Miss spiritual event can never be identified with any physical occurrence. Nothing guarantees it. It can happen with a glance, yet be absent in a stare. A wink from a stranger can be more intimate than an extended examination by a doctor. Spouses can live together for decades and never be close to one another. Then a casual encounter with a neighbor may evoke more nearness of heart than all their years together as husband and wife. Even sexual intercourse, commonly referred to as "being intimate," does not guarantee spiritual closeness. One may have sex without being intimate or be intimate and never touch the other. Many parishioners are more intimate with their priests And clients with their psychiatrists than with their own spouses.

Any type of encounter or communication can be the vehicle for closeness--a smiler a wink, a touch, a sound--but none can hold it. For this mysterious spiritual event knows no such boundaries. Any of these can occur without it; and it can happen without any of them.

Though closeness can never be captured or made synonymous with any physical transaction--or absence of same--it can be described in terms of what commonly happens. First one opens himself to the other in some manner. He may open his eyes to see the other, his ears to hear the other, his emotions to feel for the other, or his mind to consider the other. This opening process will usually come in response to some revelation of the other. Perhaps the presence of his body will evoke my looking, or some word he says may call for my hearing. Even in his absence, my memory of some previous revelation can be sufficient to prompt my opening to him.

Next, if the closeness is expanded into a present event, I will reveal or express myself in some way. Perhaps I will show my heart in a smile or reveal my mind in a sentence. I may declare myself in a handshake or touch.

If the event becomes mutual, the other person will then reveal himself in some further way, perhaps by smiling back, speaking his own mind, or rewarding my handshake with a special touch.

From then on the pattern is repeated in any extended relationship of mutual closeness. The kinds and qualities of the sharing may be expanded in an almost infinite variety of ways. Yet the building blocks remain the same: openness, revealing, and responding. The forms may include words, activities, gifts, and physical contact--tangible happenings. The event a however, is spiritual.

Perhaps what it is can be clarified by understanding what it is not. Being close is not depending on, leaning on, helping, saving or supporting the other. Each of these experiences may occur temporarily in an extended relationship of closeness, yet none provides the fabric of the event.

Nor is possessing, manipulating, or using another person being close. Though these activities constitute the major endeavors of many relationships, they are enemies of intimacy. The appearance of closeness between master anal slave, or one who uses and the one used; is always deceptive. The primary difference in stances, added to the continually present hidden agenda, prevents real nearness of heart, except in those moments when each drops his role.

In practice, intimacy seems to be more common under cover of social roles. While acting as a patient a woman may venture closer to a man who is wearing the role of doctor. A man in the stance of parishioner may get nearer to a man in the role of priest than to a neighbor next door. A boss may take the chance of greater intimacy with an employee than with a relative.

The emotional roles often assumed in marriage may provide the cover for increased personal intimacy. While acting as a mother to her husband as he wears the role of child, a wife may move nearer at heart than at any other time. A husband will sometimes be more intimate with a wife while he is playing daddy and she is acting like a little girl.

Although these and other roles may provide the cloaks for personal intimacy, they are never the fabric of the event. They may be a way of getting close but are not the experience itself. Often roles provide a way of keeping distance. A spouse may play the part of mother or father to avoid intimacy.

The point is, roles can be used in closeness but can never be identified with it. When intimacy does occur between those in various social stances, the roles are only an excuse. Always the closeness is between the persons wearing the roles, not between the roles themselves. Literally, a patient cannot get close to a doctor except as a person in the garb of patient. She can just as easily, in fact more easily, use her role to keep personal distance. Then those wearing roles do get close, the material of the roles becomes see-through. They may continue to display the social stance yet the other clearly sees the person through his then-invisible cloak.

Persons may be close through the roles of man and woman, including sexual activity--either heterosexual or homosexual--but the experience always transcends mere sexuality. Heart-to-heart is deeper than body-to-body. Even while acting sexy, for those being close, the sex act is precisely that--an act, an activity allowing intimacy. But it is not the closeness itself.

as popularly used, the term, friend, is more descriptive than lover. Those who are close are friends whether or not they make love. Except as a potential means of expressing or experiencing closeness, maleness and femaleness are relatively incidental in this event. It is as though these anatomical differences, as well as the social roles arising from them, are laid aside. With friends, anatomy and appearance take a back seat to the event of intimacy. Indeed, as we shall consider later, loving and being "lovers" are often contradictory. Nevertheless, some only dare being friends under cover of the role of lovers.

As it is with man and woman, so it is with same-sex relationships, whether the homosexuality be latent or manifest. Still sex is secondary. The issue, insofar as intimacy is concerned, is the friendship, the nearness of heart, whatever the sexual orientation or activity of those involved. Persons, not "lovers," meet intimately, even if they make love.

Being close, whatever form it takes, is standing heart-to-heart with another.


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