Touch for me has always been a visceral and joyful experience, from playing naked in the mud as a toddler,
to feeling the surprisingly dry skin of a snake on my first trip to the zoo at four with my grandmother (before the learned fear of snakes set in),
to holding hands with a boy for the first time at thirteen.
The memory of that first clasp of my daughter’s tiny fingers around my index finger still brings the kind of pure joy that tears can only enhance as they pool unbidden.
I still play with my food – mixing it with my fingers. I still feel the soil as I plant spring’s seedlings. And rubbing my husband’s beard with my palms is a supreme bonding experience every time.
Writing about touch, non-romantic loving touch, is as challenging for me as it is rewarding.
John O’Donohue, in Anam Cara, describes the power of touch eloquently.
“At the highest moments of human intensity, words become silent. Then the language of touch really speaks.”
Here is one of my favorite scenes from SPARRING PARTNERS, the first book in my Warrior Chronicles series. In it, Jordon is helping a very frail and elderly friend, Irma, as she eases her way into the next world. Touch here was vital.
Jordon sat on the pier, fishing line in the water with the pole supported by a stand so he wouldn’t have to attend to it, Irma in his arms. She weighed almost nothing and was so frail and cold. Despite the lingering sun, he had her wrapped in a wool blanket to ease her shivering. Henry and Finn sat side by side on the bank near them, but not so near as to disturb their privacy. The three deerhounds laid in the grass, heads on their front paws, alert, keeping vigil for Irma. The two oversized cats, Freya and Loki, curled on the pier near her feet.
“The sun’s going down, Jordon.”
Jordon held her tighter, knowing she wasn’t talking about the sun above. “I know.”
“Thank you for getting me out of the hospital.”
Jordon smiled. “Seems to me you got yourself out.”
“Without you, I wouldn’t have a place to go or the energy to get there.”
“Don’t talk, Irma. You’ll tire yourself.”
“I’m well past tired, boy, and not above playing the death card.” Irma coughed, racking her whole body. She was in terrible pain, but she refused to take the pills nurse Peacock forced into her hands as Jordon wheeled her out of the hospital. Irma said she didn’t want to be “all looped up” when she saw her last sunset.
Stubborn, stubborn, woman.
Jordon forced back tears and the sudden thickening in his throat. This was so much harder than he thought it was going to be when he walked into the hospital, both barrels blazing. He didn’t want to let her go, this unlikely friend he’d had so little time with. How did she get to him, anyway? Loving her and letting her go hurt more than anything he’d felt in a long time.
People in his life came and went with the wind. Some he missed, some he was sorry to see go, and a few, a precious few, helped define the man he wanted to be. Emily was one of the few, and she left him after having been on earth only a few hours. Irma was another, and she was leaving him now too. He could feel her spirit tugging at her skin to be free, and nothing he did or said could keep it contained, no matter how tightly he held on.
“You need to promise me something, Jordon.”
“Why? Because you’re dying?”
“Yes. A fact you can’t stop or delay by denying it, or by denying me. Now, give me your promise that you’ll do what I tell you.”
“I want to be cremated, and I want my ashes spread on the pond.”
“That’s it? That’s what you want me to promise?”
“No. I’m still gearing up for that.”
“Irma, you are one crazy old lady.”
“And you love me.”
“That I do,” Jordon said, kissing her forehead.
The sun was at the horizon now. Irma stared at its soft radiance for a moment before tugging at his shirt. “Then come here so I can whisper it in your ear. I always wanted to whisper in a handsome man’s ear. Don’t know why I waited this long.”
Jordon bent and listened. When she was done, he straightened and nodded soberly. “You have my promise.”
The smile she gave him was radiant, and the twinkle in her watery-green eyes remained as she watched the sun set on this hemisphere only to rise in the next.
“I love you, too, Jordon. You’re a good man.”
She closed her eyes and gave her last breath.
Jordon bent his head and cried until night purpled the sky and the first star began to shine. The dogs sang, a long, howling lament. The cats joined in a sound that managed to hold joy and sadness. Then Henry came and took Irma from his arms. Jordon didn’t want to let her go. He looked at his friend, not even trying to stop the stream of tears flowing down his face……
If you enjoyed this excerpt, you may find SPARRING PARTNERS here.
May loving touch in whatever its form find you all the days of your life. Thanks for reading and Happy Easter week!