“Well, the bad news is you’re going to be sick for weeks,” the doctor offered with a (sort of) sympathetic smile. I didn’t respond immediately, waiting for some sort of good news corollary. It didn’t come. After a four hour visit, I walked out the doors of the emergency room, less feverish than when I came, clutching my information sheet about mononucleosis and a prescription for super-strength Motrin. Before I left the hospital parking lot, I was calling everyone I remember having shared my saliva with in the past week.
Kind of embarrassing at age 26.
Earlier that evening, I made the decision that I needed to see a doctor rather than go to an Outreach Department meeting. The rash that started three days earlier had morphed into a throat so sore I could hardly eat. I texted my colleague so someone would know where I was. Fed the cat. Check. Nalgene bottle. Check. Purse with wallet and insurance card. Check. Novel. Oops.
So, I found myself with an unexpected four hours to do nothing but think. And worry.
Despite having left my main source of entertainment at home, I still got a good few minutes out of fuming at the admitting nurse who seemed to think I just had a case of poison ivy. A few more out of calling my best friend who lives across the state. A few more out of texting my colleague complaining about the nurse and forgetting my book. Several more out of people-watching and trying to figure out how people in the waiting room might be related. A few more out of checking in with my parents who live a thousand miles away. Then it was time to leave the waiting room and go back to a neatly curtained cubicle.
No cell phones allowed.
The cell phone has been my life line since I started my first call just over a year ago. I use it to call my best friend from seminary at least five times a week. I use it to catch up with college friends who remind me of what my life was like before I went to seminary. I use it to talk with my parents about what’s going on with my family who all happen to live within a 90 mile radius of one another…four states away.
That night in the ER, I used it to send and receive 56 text messages. (That’s kind of like not using your cell phone, right?)
Thank God for the technology that allows us to keep in touch. But that night, there was nothing I wanted more than someone to squeeze my hand as the nurse drew the blood for the mono test and gagged me with the cotton swab for the strep culture. Someone who would rub my back. Someone who would admire the size of my glands and be appropriately disgusted by the nastiness that had overtaken my splotchy throat. Someone who would see the rash that had been making guest appearances on various body parts but be more concerned with taking my mind off of how damn itchy it was by making me smile. Someone who would have come without my having to ask.
Don’t get me wrong. I have several friends here who, after the fact, said, “Why didn’t you call me? I would have come.” One of my best friends here is one of my colleagues who is also finishing the first year of his first call. One evening a week or two later, he told me at dinner, “I was going to come sit with you.” I had no idea what he was talking about. “I was going to come sit with you in the emergency room, but I didn’t know if it would be weird.”
In reality, I knew I could have asked him and he would have come. But I also knew he was working on a sermon for the next day.
The desperation I felt that night wasn't just to know that I am loved. My family, my friends, my colleagues, my congregants are a constant reminder that I am abundantly blessed in that regard. The desperation I felt was to be touched, to be held, to experience the intimacy of human contact that is simply intended to comfort. Not the touch offered through holding the hand of a congregant as we pray together in the nursing home. Not the touch of a firm yet knowing handshake during the passing of the peace on Sunday morning. Not the touch of hugging a congregant who has been going through a difficult time as she processes through the line at the door after the service. In those moments, I craved the compassionate touch of a partner – the kind of touch that grows out of the type of relationship that is apparently getting more difficult to experience.
In early June, NPR’s Morning Edition aired a report entitled, “Sex Without Intimacy: No Dating, No Relationships.” The report explained that young people — defined as high school-age through the early years of their careers — are no longer looking for a significant other during one of the most sexually active times in their lives. Instead of dating someone with the expectation that it may lead to sex, young people now are more likely to engage in something sexual that will never lead to dating. We’re so “preoccupied with friends, getting an education and establishing [our]selves” that we don’t make time for relationships.
While I resent our generation being typecast in this way, I cannot totally reject it. From my own dating experience, it has been easier to find someone interested in sleeping with me than someone willing to stroke my throbbing head until I fall asleep. I can also understand why sex may be replacing dating. The power of physical touch is astounding. And dating is hard. Add a “Rev.” in front of your name and it seems to get even more challenging.
In an ideal world, I would start dating someone I first considered a friend. A friend is someone you get to know because you share a mutual interest, a common location, a similar viewpoint. A friend is someone you trust. Someone you love spending time with. Someone you confide in. Someone who gets to know you outside the somewhat awkward parameters of a first date. Or second date. Or third date. Someone whose love for you grows out of seeing you at your best and your worst. It may be cliché (it was a line in"The Perfect Man," after all), but there’s some truth to Adam Forrester’s words of teenage wisdom: “Love is friendship on fire.”
Now, in a new city with most evenings and weekends consumed with meetings and worship and church events, I find myself struggling to make friends. If I were in any other field and I moved to a new place, I would look for an awesome church in hopes of making incredible friends there. Certainly, the church I serve has lots of super people my age who I’ve enjoyed getting to know tremendously. Do I spend time with some of them outside church events? Occasionally, yes. Can these great people ever be my closest friends? No. Have I had to explain to some that I am authentic in our relationship but that the dynamic of being one of their pastors will always exist? Yes. Would I ever consider starting a romantic relationship with a member of the congregation? No way.
I’m not denying my desire for a relationship that has great physical rewards. I’m not saying that all great romantic relationships grow out of amazing friendships rather than evolving into them. I’m just saying that this life has moments that feel so very, very lonely. Especially when you feel untouchable.