Dr. Gregory Jantz

The Quintessential Meaning of Intimacy

April 28, 2016

In one of the most moving books I’ve read, entitled Letters to an Unborn Child, David Ireland, disabled, confined to a wheelchair and terminally ill, wrote a series of letters to the unborn child he would never meet. While his wife was expecting, Ireland took the time to write letters to be read one day by his unknown son or daughter.

Here is an excerpt from one of those letters. It takes the word intimacy, elevates it to sky-splitting heights, and defines it as I’ve never heart it described before.

“Your mother is very special. Few men know what it’s like to receive appreciation for taking their wives out to dinner when it entails what it does for us. It means she has to dress me, shave me, brush my teeth, comb my hair; wheel me out of the house and down the steps, open the garage and put me in the car, take the pedals off the chair, stand me up, sit me in the seat of the car, twist me around so that I’m comfortable, fold the wheelchair, put it in the car, go around to the other side of the car, start it up, back it out, get out of the car, pull the garage door down, get back into the car, and drive off to the restaurant. And then, it starts all over again: she gets out of the car, unfolds the wheelchair, opens the door, spins me around, stands me up, seats me in the wheelchair, pushes the pedals out, closes and locks the car, wheels me into the restaurant, then takes the pedals off the wheelchair so I won’t be uncomfortable. We sit down to have dinner, and she feeds me throughout the entire meal. And when it’s over she pays the bill, pushes the wheelchair out to the car again, and reverses the same routine.

And when it’s over—finished—with real warmth she’ll say, “Honey, thank you for taking me out to dinner.” I never quite know what to answer.

Every week, sometimes twice a week, I have to wash my hair; this involves sitting with my shirt off in front of the sink. There’s a mirror there and I am able to look at myself, which otherwise I rarely can. Each time I see my concave chest, my head leaning to the right—the muscles and flesh of my arms and shoulders having slowly disappeared over the past few years—I begin to feel depressed, and Joyce will say, “Oh, don’t look! I’m going to take that silly mirror down if you don’t stop admiring yourself.”

Then perhaps a little later I may be lying on the bed taking a nap, and your mother will sit down next to me. She’ll place my hand in her lap and, looking into my eyes, with all depth of sincerity she will say, “You’re so handsome to me. You’re the most handsome man in the world. I love you so much.” And somehow, out of the ancient well of our experience together, I know she means it.” {1}

Intimacy is what we all ultimately desire, whether we admit it or not, whether defined as the white heat or romantic passion, the caring for a colleague, the depth of a friendship, or, as experienced by David Ireland, the uncompromising love and compassion of a woman who knew her husband would soon die and leave her alone to raise the precious child he would never see.

Joy unspeakable comes to you when you open your heart to see, touch, and feel the goodness of others, to experience your own depth, and to make it your business today—and every day—to nourish your spirit even as you shower those around you with love and compassion.

People who lose weight permanently know what it means to draw closer to others—to develop an intimacy that one writer has called into-me-see. That’s it. The willingness to let others see the real you—the big, generous, loving heart you hold inside.

Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates depth. Kindness in giving creates love, and kindness towards oneself—body and soul—provides the atmosphere for a lifetime of love and appreciation.

{1} David Ireland, Letters to An Unborn Child (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), p 33.