Monday, May 23, 2016

Licked by a Tiger

The soft probing lips of a camel nuzzles my cheek and sends tingling sensations allover my surprised body, confounded by the sensory overload.  The wet sandpaper lick of a cat offers a sense of intimacy that makes me both pull back and fall into it with giggles and pleasure. The tiger's stealthily approach and giant tongue that goes up one side of my face and down the other, sends neurological synapses firing from my brain to my toes in wave patterns; I brace for the claws. The teeth. They never come. The overwhelming physical and emotional violation of this kind of intense engagement is hard to explain to both the tiger or others, unless they too have been reared or loved by one. My mother-in-law loved in this intense fashion.

The cost of loving like a wild beast is that some will fear you even as you learn to relax and accept it. As I grew more confident as a daughter-in-law and later as a mother, I was able to better appreciate that my mother-in-law loved me in her way. Still, I had to manage the intensity of her love, every time, and I spent a lot of time avoiding the licks of the tiger.

I often wished that she could have adjusted her approach to love to something that wasn't so overwhelming, so daunting. I was certain that she had never been told, but the truth is she could never hear it. No one can tell the tiger anything but perhaps the young, the pure of heart. My daughter once told her grandmother, in her firm child voice, "No. I don't like that Mimi." My husband and I looked up, curious. The look on Mimi's face was priceless, of shock, but then it gave way to a breaking smile. No one but the wee one dared to tell her no.

The child took the licks and earned the right to say no to the requests. Never the licks. Childhood is a time of intense relationship building, of intimate bonding, but as we grow, the need to connect to the wider, broader world, increases.

Those intense, well-meaning, licks, kept us isolated and apart. The tiger never learned and neither did I. Consider this. Anytime your licks create walls or gates to go up, you are making it harder to become one, to bring others together.