In computer speak an attachment is a document added to an email. It’s an add on, and very helpful at that. However, there are other definitions of the word. John Bowlby pioneered a special definition as follows.
Attachment does not have to be reciprocal. One person may have an attachment to an individual which is not shared. Attachment is characterized by specific behaviors in children, such as seeking proximity with the attachment figure when upset or threatened (Bowlby, 1969).
Attachment behavior in adults towards the child includes responding sensitively and appropriately to the child’s needs. Such behavior appears universal across cultures. Attachment theory provides an explanation of how the parent-child relationship emerges and influences subsequent development.
This experience led Bowlby to consider the importance of the child’s relationship with their mother in terms of their social, emotional and cognitive development. Specifically, it shaped his belief about the link between early infant separations with the mother and later maladjustment, and led Bowlby to formulate his attachment theory.” (McLeod, 2009 Simply Psychology)
We all have varying degrees of attachment that are less robust than parent/child connectedness. Think of that annoying kid who sat behind you in middle school who poked you with his eraser relentlessly. (Whoops. That was me. Sorry, Marsha Humphries.) Um, in any event you have a lasting memory or attachment across time and space with this person, no matter how microscopically thin. Thank God you are not connected today beyond the neural pathway that harbors his voice or face or smell and welds it finitely to your early adolescent girl’s discomfort.
Then think of your Grandmother or your Mother. For better or worse, if you had a close relationship with either, that attachment might resemble a bridge cable, thick with reinforced neural wire networks. Each wire contains hundreds and thousands of words and smells and smiles and winks and touches. Countless lessons course through these fibers. Values and attitudes oxidize like some mildly corrosive patina on the cable, etching atmospheric style on your essence. Whatever that means mingles with the faint scent of closeted mothballs mixed with wafts of chocolate cake.
When you hear that the kid from middle school died, you might feel a tiny twinge that a face from childhood no longer exists, like a play house on your childhood street burned. However, when Grandma passes on, look out!! Paul Simon’s lyric comes to mind, “This is the powerful pulsing of love in the veins….” A fire hose volume of tears may gush uncontrollably from your lacrimal canaliculus. Gasps of grief. Convulsions of agony echo the ripping of that attachment. Like Carol King sang, you might “feel the earth move under your feet and the sky tumbling down”.
Detaching is the unwanted but necessary task of grief. In your unconscious mind a blue plumber mime with no torso hands you a hack saw and gestures for you to cut ties: the billions of ties that make up the fibers, that make up the million wires, that make up the massive cable of your attachment to Grandma. You keep dropping the saw in your convulsed state. After hours alone you pick it up and hate the tool, curse its function while knowing what must be done. Like sawing the legs off the deer you shot and gutted. Then peel off its fur. It must be done. Survival depends on such cruelties.
Part of you dissociates in this trauma, watching your hands saw back and forth at the suspension cable from the top of the bridge tower. The bridge of interpersonal connection back into Grandma’s lap. The distance allows for quiet objectivity. No emotional engagement. You wonder why the guy doesn’t just use a cutting torch. Wouldn’t that be more efficient?
The guy is you, you remember, and now feel his exhaustion. Grief rages through your marrow like chemotherapy, killing to cleanse and give life back to you. Existential wrestling erupts in your belly: is the vermilion pain of this present reduction worth the mint green joy of the earlier construction? Then a meteor of guilt hits from outer space– “Of course it is, you block of marble!! Love is carving you into David, grinding away the burrs and imperfections; sanding your integrity till it gleams.” This is the powerful pulsing of love in your living veins. Blood smells like wet iron rust, right? Stop whining!
Grief is the exit tax on love. In Honduras the government is so poor that they do all they can to attract visitors or investors, but they charge an exit fee for you to leave. It’s maybe thirty bucks, or a five gallon bucket of lempiras. Fifty five other countries either charge you to enter or leave (mostly via airline tickets), like they are huge amusement parks. But you get the point, right? You had a good time and now it has to hurt to leave the Tunnel of Love. Otherwise everyone would stay there and no new folks could snuggle and kiss and fall in love on a swan boat. The human parade would end if no one ever vacated space.
Origin of attach
Middle English (in the sense ‘seize by legal authority’): from Old French atachier or estachier ‘fasten, fix’, based on an element of Germanic origin related to stake; compare with attack.
If you follow the word back to its origins, there is often a story that resonates with the ringing bell of truth. Our loved ones are hearts we have staked, laid claim to, fastened and fixated upon, whether they agree to the legal authority of love or not. The stake is driven in our own hearts by eager little hands.
So there you go. Attach at your own risk.