Years ago, when I was writing part of the eulogy for my father-in-law’s funeral service, I asked for each of the five grandsons to share a special memory of their ‘PaPa’. My younger son, Ross told me that his Papa was a really good listener. His example to support this was that when he told his grandfather about a trip to the store to buy a baseball, his PaPa took the ball Ross had purchased and held it, moving it around in his hands and examining the surface. Ross believed his PaPa wanted to understand what his grandson valued by taking it in and experiencing it in the only way he could. Since PaPa was bedridden, he was not able to go outside and throw the ball with his grandson, but he could give his undivided attention by listening and touching the baseball.
While it was a simple example from an eighth-grade boy, it impressed me that by that act my son made the judgement that his PaPa was a really good listener. He was totally absorbed in what my son was telling him with his ears and his hands. I’ve thought of how many times I’ve looked at something without taking the time and effort to engage it with my hands, my sense of touch to experience something more fully.
Now I watch my six-month old grandson as he discovers the world. He’s not content to just look at things; he fully engages by touching each thing multiple times, trying to figure out what it is. When he touches the metal tile on the wall, he fans his fingers back and forth across the surface, examining the raised areas, learning by experience that it feels different from the wooden handrail by the stairs. And on flat surfaces like the table, he slaps his hands down hard, perhaps liking the sound, feeling the power of his own force.
I copy him and close my eyes and touch the same surfaces, wondering what it feels like when you’re at the beginning of life. By the time you’re sixty-three, you know the uses for the objects, how they’re constructed, and have childhood memories associated with each: sliding down the wood bannister of our farmhouse, the coolness of the surface of our Formica kitchen table, opening the tin vents on the side of our tobacco barn and being stung by wasps.
Last year when I traveled to Iona, Scotland, I wanted to totally engage my senses. I touched things in my path to increase my memory of that pilgrimage. I rubbed my hand across the ancient carvings in the oldest tall cross at Iona Abbey, MacLean’s Cross. Now, when I close my eyes and think of being there, I remember the rough texture and feel that ever-present breeze on my face.
When we hiked into the hills near the Abbey, I picked a piece of heather, and felt the scratchiness of the plant while enjoying the visual beauty of the small bloom. I made sure to put my hands in the cold water of Iona Sound, feeling the sugar-soft sand and searching for a special rock to take home.
Now that winter is approaching, I think of how important the texture of fabric is to feeling warm when the temperatures drops. I look forward to wearing my corduroy coat and remembering how much I liked that fabric as a child. I think of the ways the touch of fabric brings comfort, like the fleece throws that volunteers have made for Mama and others at Parkview, and prayer shawls knitted for survivors going through cancer treatment. Those warm coverlets of care have a way of making you feel grounded.
I think of how my grandson is re-teaching his ‘Grammy’ the importance of touch for engaging more fully with the world. It’s not enough to look at something and keep going. Now I need to slow down, be in the moment, and ‘Stay in Touch’ with what is around me to be fully engaged in life.
How About You?
How can you slow down and be present through the use of touch?
What objects have you rediscovered by taking the time to fully engage with them?