The kiss

2014-01-16 00:00

KISSING is a form of human interaction practised the world over. Although generally signifying love, affection and connectedness, types of kisses vary greatly, and their meaning and purpose are usually very context specific.

Some kisses, like those between partners, are romantic gestures of love and are personal, while others serve as greetings between friends and are more social forms of interaction.

In some cases, a kiss can be a multifaceted interaction. The kissing of the bride that follows the vows in a Christian marriage service is an example of a kiss that has strong social and personal aspects. It serves to seal the sacrament of marriage, is a public demonstration of love and commitment, and also a personal expression of love and devotion.

In addition to being very context specific, kisses can also be significantly influenced by culture. So, for example, while the double-cheeked peck and hug that many Italian men routinely greet one another with is fine in Italy, it probably wouldn’t go down very well with a group of South African men discussing the latest Super 15 rugby results around the braai over a Castle lager.

While holidaying in the Kruger National Park recently, I witnessed a kiss that was completely unexpected, incredibly rich and multilayered, and totally outside my existing frame of reference.

I was walking with my wife Shelley and daughter Josie to one of the game-viewing hides at the lodge we were staying in. We passed two young boys (about nine or 10) who were fishing in a small dam. One of the boys had just caught a fish and ran towards me, holding it up excitedly.

“Look what I have just caught,” he said proudly.

“Wow”, I replied, “well done!”

He was about to release it back into the dam when his friend shouted at him. “You can’t just put it back; you have to kiss it first.”

The boy who caught the fish stopped in his tracks, drew the fish to his face, gently kissed it on the side of its mouth, and then carefully released it back into the water. Pleased with proceedings, the boy’s friend picked up his rod and continued fishing.

I also felt pleased with proceedings, and Shelley and Josie were also quite taken with the moment. The kiss seemed like such a kind and respectful gesture, and while calling it poignant might be a bit strong, it was certainly precious.

Looking back on it, the kiss seemed to be comprised of so many likely elements: a kiss goodbye and good luck, a kiss of apology for the injury inflicted by the hook and for disrupting the fish’s daily business, a symbolic kiss to expedite the healing of the injury caused by the hook, a gesture of respect to the fish, a thank-you kiss for being a good sport and perhaps a kiss to some extent motivated by superstition and most young boys’ natural affinity with things gross.

I am not sure exactly which of these elements would apply, to what extent and in what configuration, but in interactions like these the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts.

I think that the late Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman pretty much summed up kissing when she said: “A kiss is a lovely trick, designed by nature, to stop speech when words become superfluous.”

For me, the kiss was an incredibly dear gesture, respectful and proper.

As we continued walking, I turned to Shelley and Josie, and simply said: “Now that’s exactly how all children should be taught to fish.”

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