Touch

I’ve always loved touch. I love to touch and be touched. My ex-husband was the same way. When I started post-marital dating, it came as a complete shock to me that others didn’t love it as much as I did. While there were no complaints about being touched, one of my first lovers rarely directed those same energies towards me.

According to him, he was all about sustainability. But, as the relationship progressed, it quickly became obvious that our relationship could not sustain my one-sided effort. As I looked at my son and his innate expectation that hugs and cuddles are forthcoming from the world, both on demand and just because, I wondered how someone could arrive at the age of forty-two and be so measured in their expression of emotions.

As I pondered that question, my mind wandered to some of my past relationships and an image of my first love’s parents came to mind. Together for over thirty years, touch was merely another language spoken in their home, as common as the English and French that wove throughout their conversations that it too almost went unnoticed.

Routinely, his father would enter the home and caress his wife’s backside while leaning in for a kiss as she busied herself at the sink. And she, in conversation with her son and I, would often unselfconsciously rest her head in her husband’s lap, allowing herself to lean and relax into the comfort of his strength.

The language of touch in this household was not only one the two of them spoke. One evening, about eight months before her untimely death, she moved easily about the kitchen floor. With Latino music wafting softly through the warm evening air, her son smoothly rose from his chair, extending his arms in an invitation to his mother to join him in a tribute to the moment. Effortlessly, she flowed across to the center of the floor where they met, dancing as if practiced a million times before. Lost in the moment, each in tune with the other’s rhythm, they danced, eyes locked, moving inside of the music like an extra note that complements the pre-ordained arrangement. Although the moment soon ended, the energy created remained, permeating the room and charging the atmosphere with love.

And then it occurred to me. Like a prevailing theory of sustainability based on the use of hydrogen as the energy source of the future, giving and receiving touch is a currency fundamental to the success of any relationship. By touching, you are connecting with another, creating a deposit in the energy grid from which the two of you draw. And, it is this grid, if rich enough in deposits, that creates a daily language of love and sustains your relationships through the tough times.

For my son, it is my hope that he never loses his perception that touch is a simply another language, one as essential to life as the air that he breathes. For I know that it will allow him to have happy and fulfilling relationships, sustaining them when words fail and actions trip him up. As a currency to possess, it seems worth more than its weight in gold.

Voice

Driving home from the doctor’s today, my son asked me to play him the music from his favourite Raffi CD. In particular, he asked for tracks fifteen, fourteen, and thirteen in that specific order. Since we don’t have a CD player in our car and since I didn’t know what the songs actually were, I asked him how they went. To my surprise, he sang me one. Tentatively at first, unsure of his abilities, his voice grew stronger and stronger as he immersed himself in the song and the simple pleasure of hearing himself create it. At the end of the first song, I gave him a resounding hooray which led him to sing tracks fourteen, thirteen and any other that he could remember. By the time we arrived home, his voice was steady and clear, sure in its beauty and certain of its desirability.

That evening, as my yoga class opened, the group chanted in harmony, with high and low notes dancing throughout one other until a multitude of voices melded into one. Afterwards, alone in my car, as I sang my lungs out to the radio, it suddenly struck me that I only sing when alone or think that I can’t be heard.

As I thought about this, I remembered a day that I experienced in India years earlier. In a small village in the middle of nowhere, where local children viewed foreigners as spectacular as movie stars and often asked them for their autographs, my friend and I were taken in hand by a group of poor schoolchildren. Speaking about ten words of English between them, they managed to let us know that we were to go with them and that it was non-negotiable.

As we followed them through the unpaved streets, they silently bade us to climb higher and higher, past the village’s hillside houses where women stopped and gaped at us, over well-trod paths and around deeply-entrenched stones that provided support, until we finally reached the top where we were able to see a three hundred and sixty degree panorama of the pristine countryside lying at our feet. As we nursed our winded lungs and weary legs while taking it all in, the children’s leader, dressed in ragged clothes and worn out flip-flops, looked past us and, with a sweeping motion that underscored the prideful emotion in his heart, proclaimed it ‘beautiful’. Uncomprehendingly, we agreed, thinking that this was what they wanted to show us, not realizing that this was only the beginning.

And so, they led us back down the mountain, through the village’s dusty roads, until we reached a river in which clear water ran sure and deep. Descending the steps that led into it, we realized that this was where much of the village life took place: washing, bathing, and, for the children, immersing themselves in the freedom that buoyancy and forgetfulness brings. After creating a human chain onto which we could cling against the river’s current and urging us to bathe, the children’s eight-year old leader beckoned us to the river’s edge. And there, sitting on the rough-hewn stone embankment, in a strong voice free with emotion and unencumbered by its weight, he sang for us.

Over a decade later, the image of the shadow of the man he was about to become remains etched in my mind: a wet boy in a tattered white shirt clinging to his scrawny frame, singing from the heart, unafraid of ridicule or of displaying the emotions he felt to be true, exhibiting a moment of ordinary bravery in an otherwise uneventful day. Coming back to the present, I realize that, as a parent, one of the best things that I can do for my son is to foster in him a feeling of freedom to express his authentic voice, a voice containing his own unique emotions, opinions, and thoughts. So that, whether or not he sings in tune to the rest of the world, alone, or in a crowd, he will always be comfortable expressing what is in his heart, keeping him steady and true while being clear in his feelings and intentions, unfettered by fears of judgement and the unspoken limitations that society sometimes ascribes.

 

Fear

Yesterday, I found out that a girl in my son’s preschool class was diagnosed and hospitalized over the weekend with acute leukemia. As I sent my well-wishing thoughts their way, knowing the deaths and illnesses this family had recently endured, I couldn’t help but think how unfair life can sometimes be.

As this thought rattled around in my brain, flittering in and out of mind as I went about my normal daily routine of work, chores and childcare, I was wholly unprepared for a lunchtime work date. As we politely conversed in a sterile corporate cafeteria, making polite and formal exchanges typical of virtual strangers, our conversation unwittingly slipped into the personal as my former client mentioned that she’s a breast cancer survivor. In return, I told her the latest news from my three year old son’s classroom.

As we talked, she shared her experience of living with cancer. Although I would normally have found this type of conversation sobering, leaving me with a feeling of how hard life can occasionally be, a couple of minutes into her story I realized that I was laughing. And, more to the point, that she was encouraging it.

The more she described her journey and the more I laughed, the more I realized that although she’s had a radical double mastectomy, major surgery, early and permanent menopause, and undergone four years of breast reconstruction, she doesn’t define herself by the loss she’s endured and the threat of relapse. Instead, she’s like a tightrope walker who balances with ease on a heightened thread of silver, simultaneously fearless and mindful of the ever-present danger. While continually and fully engaging in the dance of life, she allows for expansion and pushing of boundaries while delighting in the minute shifts rooted in balance and serenity that are intricately interwoven in each action resulting in forward motion taking place with joy, grace, and desire.

As I went back to my cubicle to finish my day’s work, I couldn’t help but reflect on how much I could learn from this woman’s attitude. Although outwardly successful, I sometimes play small. And, the more successful I become, as measured by a healthy bank account and thriving career, the more I’m aware of how fear is often the final arbiter when making decisions: fear of not making enough money, fear of not having enough in the future, fear of not being able to take care of my son, fear of being rejected or not loved enough with the final outcome my decision not to engage in the course of action that I’m contemplating or seize the opportunity that lies before me.

Thinking back on my past, I’m struck by the fact that my most fulfilling moments are those in which I immersed myself in the moment, fully embracing life while exploring the potential of the unknown, clear in the fact that the present doesn’t impact on the past or immutably pave the road to the future. Essentially, it was when I stepped through the invisible barriers of my fear, risking it all by laying my preconceived desires aside and opening myself up to being vulnerable, confident in the fact that any possible outcome would only add to my participation in the dance of life that I had the most intense experiences resulting in intangible but long-lasting rewards of laughter, joy, pleasure, growth, self-awareness, self-confidence, and love.

As a parent, it’s my hope that by honouring my commitment to playing large on the field of life while simultaneously acknowledging my fears and placing them on the passenger’s seat in my quest for richness, fulfillment, love and pleasure that I’ll instil in my son the same desire to make the most of his life’s journey, enabling him to face his fears head on and take the risks that are a part of life but integral to growing as a human being, exploring his own dimensions, and ultimately finding peace and harmony within himself.