The touch


The touch

It is everywhere.  I walked past the entrance to the airport and the display is on parade.  The touch.  Not the “may I help you” touch of a friend when you have fallen.  Not the touch on your arm or back as you describe a difficult time.  It is the touch of intimacy that comes with both the parting and the return from a trip that is written on the face and found in the embrace of a loved one.  Genuine and forced, hopeful and fearful. Anticipation and dread.  All of these and so many more emotions are on display, if you will but look. 

The trips are varied and the reasons many, but the parting is the same; personal.  Some went through the ritual at home and arrived at the airport alone.  Already on the journey, with the memory of the parting in the past.  Some were clamorous with a gaggle of kids dealing with separation anxiety and others were silent as the divorce is still fresh.  The parting and the return will be the same for both. 

I watched from afar, and at many different ports of call, but it is always the same.  Lovers kissing, parents fearful for the parting of children, anguished friends going to comfort a loved one in another town… and the parting is personal, ‘I’ am going, ‘I’ am leaving...  Later in the hallways of the terminal the shield will come back, but at the car or train or taxi the parting is still fresh, intimate, solid and with a timeframe that is not your own.

Being a first-time flier or a seasoned traveler, the flight is the same, but the anxiety is not.  Watching people line up or linger back, the plane will not leave if you are there.  The seat is assigned, you will be fine being patient, but only if you think so.  Some people don’t think so and are looking for a calming voice.  Others put their headphones on and block out the world of distractions.  To engage or to ignore, to talk or watch a movie is a choice of all.  To have a snack or drink, to sleep or to look out the window… all is there for each of us.

The parting though is now a memory.  Where was the kiss, the shoulder hug that was missing any warmth, the caress of a touch that lingered...  These are compared to our desires and also to the times past when they were different than now.  Is it age? Weariness? Fatigue? Apathy? What is your part and what is your friend’s role?  Do they know and will you talk about it?  The path down into complacency is littered with the dreams that withered along the way.  Will you confront the loss, the absence?

How many other journeys are this way?  The parting of a child going to school, to camp or to the military service, certainly these are milestones worthy of the touch.  The sitting at the bedside of a loved one that is in Hospice, waiting to depart on a journey that you cannot share, for now anyway.  The touch comes in the waiting rooms of a hospital and the office of the pastor.  The first meeting with the funeral director and the last with a doctor.  The touch is real.  The touch is needed, but sometimes cold.  Numb.

Perhaps you have seen it in the actions of a friend’s family or the chilling stoicism of those that lack the warmth of experience that would thaw the frozen pain inside.  It hurts to even watch, for those that know the opposite intimately.  Some will weep openly, some simply embrace and hold for a while, drinking in and breathing out stability.  Some as a gift received, some as a gift given.  Always as a gift.  You know when you get it… you know when it is received by another.  The transfer of something not captured by words.  Love, perhaps is best, but it is a flawed word and the English is the problem.  Tears, perhaps will convey a message that words cannot, but some are reluctant.

Then what?  You pick up your baggage and the parting is complete.  The walk alone, through the midst of strangers, on a path to another place.  The anticipation of a safe landing, but an unknown middle passage.  Work, play, grief, reunion; all are reasons to leave.  All are reasons to land again, and yet you will be changed by the journey.  Something takes place in the middle that is anticipated in the parting.  Something about the return that is unknown until the telling of the story of the trip.  Perhaps the change is permanent and perhaps it is temporary, but it is going to be there.  It cannot be escaped.

The touch knows all of this when it is given.  The caress of the face by the light touch of a lover.  The deep hug of one that knows it may be the last one they give.  The look in the eyes of the one that fears the unknown…. All of it in a touch.  The breaking of the voice with the words that are not spoken as much as whispered.  With it, the touch of love is conveyed, hoping to be received in the manner it is given.

You have seen it in its absence, and in its expressions.  You have given this touch and expected it in return…. And you have known it by its power to revive.  The trip to grandma’s house when a child.  The parting of the same.  And now the memory can do the work as well… The touch of one that loves freely.

Where is the power derived?  Anticipation? Fear? Warmth of the first time? The difference from the normal bland days of late summers wasted on the banal.  All of this is in the mind, but now we are back to the beginning of the trip.  The first-time flier and the road warrior are on the same plane, but not the same trip.  The excitement is different even though the flight is the same.  The journey will end the same for both, but one will have lived well and the other slept through it.  It is as you believe it to be.  Enjoyable or terrifying, fearful or routine.  Look into the mirror and see what is beyond the face.  Look into the part of you that has become a complacent road warrior and you will see the twin of the one that is the scared first-time traveler.  They are the same face.  The face of one is fresh, fears clear and present, and the face of the other is weary of the failed attempts over many years, such that they are afraid to try again.

We are a social species and as such need a “group”.  It is a good thing to see others engaged in the act of parting with the touch.  It reminds us we are not alone in our partings and returning.  Individually though, the stories are singular.  My embrace, your cool reception.  My wanting to tell of the travels, the story of my middle passage.  You are distracted and uninterested in the things you have on smell of or sounds still in your memory wanting to be spoken into existence again.  We need a listener.  So too is the one that waited.  They have tales of the time between the takeoff and the landing.  They too need a place to recount their tales of the little things that may be less exciting.  Tales of the domestic battles that find no valiant defenders telling their tales of epic encounters in the trenches of the home front. The touch is on its way to becoming cool in the parting for the next journey.

What is the chemistry to returning the warmth, the tenderness, the anticipation? When salt is added to ice it gets cooler, turning a few other ingredients (milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla) from sloshy to solid, and we get ice-cream from its required additional component, work.   The labor of the churning and mixing and moving from the edge to the center and back again.  Moving from the center to the edge to draw the heat out and transferring the cool into the center.  Over and over is this the case.  Hand crank or electric it is the same process.  Here is a curious part though; hand crank ice-cream is less uniform.  It is the changing speed that allows the milk to stay longer and shorter intervals on the edge, to form larger and smaller crystals of the sloshy stuff inside.  This is the secret.  To use the power of the work that is needed, to be thrust upon the dasher, to have the scraping of the edge of the crystals that were formed in the touching of the cold thrust back and the mixing and churning that must take place in the center of the thing.

This is the secret.  Trade the heat of the wound for the coolness of the edge.  Do the hard work of the churning of the story and the telling and the tears of the trials, that must come.  Send the mixed sloshy froth back to the edge for more of the transferring of the heat.  Continue until the heat of the wounds have been confronted and spoken and mixed with the loss of the time that was needed.  But what of the dasher?  Hope is the labor that turns the crank, but the dasher doesn’t move.  Stable and secure in its position, the dasher stands above and holds firm.  Scraping and tossing the crystalized bits of the story of the pain back into the center until it has become solid and unified.  Smooth and coalesced into one homogenous thing.  The dasher is the friend that stays with the process.  Not taking sides, but not getting lost in its role.  It is to scrape the sides for false motives and the putting on the cloak of victimhood.  To send the lies filled with the heat of only one side to the edge for the time it needs to take that heat away, then back to the center again.  Oddly, the dasher is then removed, by the hand of another.  Knowing it is time to be removed, cleaned of the remnants of the process, and set aside. With a story of its own.

 But what of the heat?  Transferred to the ice and the melting of it, into the salty brine that runs out the weep hole.  Tears.  The salty brine that washes away the heat of the pain.  It is a mess, but it does its job.  Salty, wet, messy, but what a thing it allowed to become.  This is the stuff that is found in the touch of the ones that have traveled well, that have done the work.  This is the touch that is beyond the words.  Tears that speak. Salty, wet, messy.  The touch.


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