THE FIRST TIME
By Marcia Singer, M.S.W.
Do you remember falling in love for the first time? The thrill of holding hands –the tender first kiss, the longing to be close? Most of us have had these lovely if common experiences, but for thousands of those among us who are severely handicapped, there is no taking this human need for intimate connection and touch for granted.
Perhaps you saw the recent movie, “The Sessions” --a moving tribute to this basic human need. Nominated for both an Oscar and a Golden Globe, actors Helen Hunt and John Hawks enact the true story of a man confined to an iron lung who succeeds in having a first sexual experience with the help of a professional surrogate therapist –and finding love and marriage later on.
I have a story of my own to tell you, the love story of Simon and Rebecca, two would-be lovers with cerebral palsy. Twenty-three year old Simon was brought to his institutional home as a youngster, when his single mom couldn’t care for him at home. Simon was slightly retarded, and had “the shakes” so bad, he could hardly get close to anyone without hitting them, accidentally. Rebecca, age thirty-one, had been institutionalized as a teenager by hopeful parents hoping for special education advantages for their daughter. While physically less challenged, “Becca” couldn’t make her mouth cooperate to speak words. Her mind was clear, but her expressive sounds were barely intelligible to others.
Years ago my special training to professionally help adults and teens with intimacy issues brought me to the care facility where Simon and Becca lived. The Program Director there, a savvy, caring and creative woman, had phoned a surrogate therapist, Mary, to provide residents with some healthy sexual ed – something thought to be unnecessary, even avoided by most doctors in her field: Either handicapped persons did not have the same desires or needs as the rest of us, or addressing the matter was too messy, too troublesome. This Director didn’t want her wards to be left in the dark…
Simon and Rebecca were among the attendees –as was I. Mary noticed them looking at each other from their wheelchairs, misty-eyed. Physical encumbrances nothwithstanding, it was obvious to Mary that these two adored one another. For the first time, it was out that they were longing to share their affections. They had never shared a single touch, living for months on end with silent pain, and little hope for their dream of connecting,
It was a wish soon to be granted. Two strong assistant nurses were called in to help. One at a time, Simon and Rebecca were helped onto two rollaway hospital cots, side by side. For the first time, they were able to look deeply into each other’s eyes, and feel the thrill of skin to skin contact –in spite of Simon’s jerks and twitches. Though only their arms and hands could physically meet, their bliss was palpable, filling the room with a glow I’ve never forgotten.
Love knows no bounds. Eros –the”life principle” lives as a potential within each of us in our hearts, our souls –no matter the condition of our bodies. --Or minds. Touched profoundly, I went on to assist the aging, and those with severe emotional handicaps to make the bridges to intimacy that we all crave. I feel blessed indeed.
Marcia Singer directs the Love Arts Foundation, now in norcal,
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