"Every human being is a puzzle of need. You must become the missing piece and they will tell you anything" -from the film, Red Sparrow
“All the four letter words.” I threw my hand in the air for effect. The phrase was offered in conclusion to a painful story, veiled for younger ears in the room.
“Are four letter words bad, Mom?” my old soul of an eight-year-old asks in response.
It's Hallmark material as he continues.
“Isn’t love a four letter word?”
One chokes up at this moment, the interjection is so poignant: from the mouths of babes they say.
He comes over to sit with me in the chair and I wonder out loud what other quadruplets we can dream up. Together we make a mental list. I’m grateful to be drawn back to the present. He knows my attention is undivided and we continue an eager search.
Love, hope, safe, good, home, name, know, seen, give, gift, true, eyes, nose, toes, hand, neck, bike, walk, food, stay.
We call them out slowly as they come to mind (there’s a few more here) and then he says,
I’m proud of this, knowing desire is a tender thing to name.
“Yes, want is a good word,” I reply.
He quips back,
This stops me in my tracks and now the tears that any parent might have felt at the first injunction are behind the doors of my eyes. My throat constricts and my heart beats with fear.
“Need? Yeah, you’re right… need is a good word. I wouldn’t have thought of that.”
He lingers a moment, attuned to the truth he has brought my thoughts, then with a quick side hug bounces off to go play. His prophetic voice is dialed in, swift and piercing, and he knows it. I can’t help but enjoy the glimpse of a hidden smirk as he walks away.
I have work to do. Need is a good word. Need is a good word? Tears are so common on my face they’re like condensation. The heat of my heart’s shame sweats and I am easily undone.
I know I’ve got needs, but often felt the terror of not being able to hold in the crazy and watched it puddle or ooze around me like a plutonium leak at worst or incontinence at best. I learned very early on needs were not things I was allowed or supposed to have and at six weeks of age woke up with dry diapers, earning the champion title at four of ‘iron bladder’ for being able to last an eight-hour car ride with no pit stops. Winning the endurance race of self-restraint was key to my acceptance.
As I’ve grown older, my defenses worn down, I’ve witnessed moments outside my body where I lose cover. I’m exposed on accident, the sound and scent ripples across the room and I see faces watch like I just dropped an f-bomb or turd on the floor. No one knows what to do with me, but they all want to do something, straightening up to their polished adult selves to reach down with pity or contempt on my fluid state. Ready with their ideas of condescension, mop buckets, or quarantine. Often saying, “these are the things you need:”
Jesus, discipline, advice, guidance, repentance, forgiveness, guilt, and supervision
This has made it very difficult for me to discern the relationship between what belongs to me and what doesn’t. I’m used to receiving things I don’t need, and not even possessing the name of what I do. It makes living tricky. I have long worried what I will eat, wear, and what’s happening tomorrow because my real needs have been buried beneath piles of someone else’s wants.
Now this isn’t saying my needs are paramount. They just need names and life and air and occasionally, words. They need to know which people should remain strangers to certain parts of them, and who to be introduced as friends. They need to know they are good.
Here’s the deal. I’ve done a lot of work. I’m comfortable with sensations of loss and desire, close cousins of younger needier counterparts. If you cut me, I will bleed, just like anybody else. But unlike most, I know, and love, the parts of my story and body that live with permanent loss and longing, including my needs. I have even gone so far as to call them friends.
Because, I have learned what I need, where I should not look, if I should look at all, and what should be expected of others and myself, which is often not what can be expected of myself and others.
My neediness tends the space in between as a question, keeping it open and curious.
I’ve learned to meet needs with my face. Sometimes with my words (knowing I would very much like to meet them with my words), accepting that silence and eyes are often best. Learning my silence and eyes need to find words elsewhere to say, see, or read, so that I can continue to know what my face needs to bring.
I have named my needs and chosen to let them be needed right now. They have met me. We have met each other.
There are things I need, people I need, space I need, money I need, love I need, rest I need.
Many things I need, that I do not have.
I am aware of all of it. They have voices and places that live in my body and soul and mind.
It is a sixth sense I did not choose. Need is a four letter word. Something that comes from nothing. It can survive without hope and lead you to beauty or terror. It came from a place that survived without hope and found both beauty and terror.
A lot of needs have only one answer. Hunger, food. Thirst, drink. Tired, rest.
Some have complex answers. Starvation, Dehydration, Burnout, Trauma. Answer too much too quickly and it could kill you.
Needs easily beget confusion. Need and chaos often share a home. So we flush the toilet, wash dishes, change diapers, and take out the trash. Or pick up for company and actually fold the laundry. It gets overwhelming, and somewhere in the midst of life it’s easy to think that once we understand needs versus wants we begin to think we must find the answer to what we know we need. Without it, we can think we won’t (and we might not) survive.
But, becoming a person aware of your need without seeking resolution is actually a place of immense power.
It is also deeply painful.
Need is awareness, Need is sight, Need is power, Need is embodiment, Need is hope. Need is welcome. Need is connection.
It is like the ocean tides, a saltwater conductor of movement, ever meeting and never met.
This baby needs a name, this story needs a home, this heart needs love, this question needs space, this person needs silence, they only need a face.
My needs know things. They lead me to places and take tender care of curiosity better than fulfillment or answers ever will.
Need is a good word.
"It's a beautiful day" -Beautiful Day, U2