The first time I saw them kiss, my life changed forever….
Most of us take for granted the possibility of falling in love and sharing the thrill of holding hands and kissing for the first time. We think nothing of fantasizing about even a whole lot more, and expect that given a mutual attraction and a little opportunity, our dreams can come true. However, for thousands of severely handicapped persons, there is no taking this human desire, this human right, for granted.
Years ago, I had a friend “Mary,” a very special kind of therapist and educator who helps people with very personal problems that involve their physical bodies and their sensual-sexual lives. She helped a lot of forgotten men and women who live outside the mainstream, and who experience a lot of heartache because they are so “different.” This was very true for “Simon” and “Rebecca,” two would be lovers with cerebral palsy. Simon was slightly retarded, and had “the shakes” so bad that he could scarcely get close to anyone at all without hitting them accidentally. Rebecca was less physically challenged, but couldn’t make her mouth cooperate to speak words. Her sounds were expressive, but only scarcely intelligible, although her mind was clear.
Simon was twenty-three years old. Rebecca was thirty-one. Both had lived in the same institution for quite a while. Simon was brought in as a youngster when his mother, a single parent, couldn’t manage taking care of him at home. Rebecca had been institutionalized as a teenager when her parents hoped the special education offered there could help their daughter make the best of her challenges.
Mary received a phone call one day from the program director of the school that Simon and Rebecca attended. The savvy director knew about Mary’s work, and she wanted her patients to have the benefit of some sexual education. This was in spite of the fact that many other directors in her line of work saw no need for it. They simply didn’t view handicapped men and women as having the same desires and needs as the rest of us. All that stuff about love and sex was seen as troublesome, if it was seen at all. Something to avoid. Something to ignore.
“Can you make a presentation for people with severe handicaps?” The director asked. “ I am not even sure exactly what is appropriate, but I know they shouldn’t be left out in the dark.”
“I am sure we can work it out,” replied Mary. “I’ll keep it very basic, and those who have questions can ask.”
The day for the special presentation arrived. Mary was a little nervous, even though she had handled all kinds of unusual requests. She spoke about the usual “birds and bees,” but she also focused on the human need for companionship, for loving touch, and all the ways people in love could invent to show their affections. She talked about the remarkable healings that she had seen such love make possible.
Simon and Rebecca were in the audience. Mary noticed them looking at each other with misty eyes. Physical encumbrances notwithstanding, it was obvious to Mary that they adored one another. Mary inquired about that. What everyone found out was that Simon and Rebecca were longing to share their affections, and that they had never so much as even touched each other. It was very moving and sad to realize that for months on end, they had lived with this silent pain. The director and Mary had an idea: somehow, and it wouldn’t be easy with Simon’s jerks and twitches, they were going to help these two single people in love to have their wish granted.
With the aid of a strong assistant nurse, 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 at close range, and feel the thrill of skin-to-skin contact. Even though it was only their arms and hands that physically met, their bliss was so palpable, it filled the whole room with a rosy glow that Mary would never forget. Nor the director. It was obvious that love knows no bounds no limits. Love lives within the hearts and souls of each of us, no matter what the condition of our bodies.
From then on, a more humane and compassionate approach to the love lives of the patients was instigated. Mary went on to lecture about the small miracle she had witnessed and helped bring about wherever people would listen. I was at one of those lectures and was touched deeply. I now help people with severe emotional handicaps to make the bridges to intimacy that we all crave, to look for all the possibilities for capturing the magic of that first embrace