Sunday, November 1, 2020

On Human Touch and How to Make Words Shine....

Imagine my surprise when sent me a picture she had just painted for a local art contest in St. Louis with the theme of Human Touch. I met Sarah about 15 years ago when she was a new mother. She had put away her art brushes for a while but obviously has since brought them out again. Thanks, Sarah for continuing to speak your light with art.

We clasp the hands of those who go before us and the hands of those who come after us; we enter the little circle of each other's arms...  --Wendell Berry

In October 2014, after we had just moved to Doha, Qatar, there was an Eid holiday--a few days to holiday. We decided to head for Egypt. During that week, mostly in Cairo, we went to the famous Alabaster Mosque on the Citadel overlooking the city. During the time inside and then outside the mosque, there were some young girls that stayed with me for a while to practice their English. Joseph snapped a picture of us when I had to leave. The photo captures a marked moment for me--you might say a hinge point. Up until that point, I was nervous, a little scared, homesick. I had traveled a great deal before, but there had been much change at lightning speed in the previous month. I kept opening my eyes and remembered I was far away from home and all things familiar. That embrace in the picture changed my perspective for the new Middle East chapter that was beginning.

Although I am clearly the oldest person in the photo, there was this undeniable bonding that occurred in the hour we spent together. I have never forgotten the love I felt for those young Egyptian girls--so willing to befriend a stranger. Weeks before, I thought, I had just left everything: the old homestead house we had remodeled and painstakingly redone for 18 years was in the process of being sold, and family and loved ones were a world away. There were new smells, customs, traditions, and people I was trying to understand and decipher. It did not help that most people questioned our travel plans and kept saying, "You are going to Egypt?" Who would have thought a few Egyptian teenage girls could pour some courage in me?

The moment in time outside the Alabaster Mosque, high above the other minarets of Cairo, I can still remember because I was different when we unlocked arms. Those young girls gave me a precious gift in that hug where we are all snugly wrapped together in a long embrace. I felt pure love stream into my heart. Trepidation and uneasiness flew away. Light poured into the gaps or holes in my heart. Indeed human touch is healing. Pangs of sorrow can be swallowed up and grudges lifted. A feeling of connectedness with others comes with an embrace that can elude words. Holding someone's hand can bring needed solace that does not come in any other way.

This happened to me a month ago when I was about to get shoulder surgery. I had a few tears dripping down my face because I was thinking of my own father. One of the last times I saw him in this life, he was wearing a sling and waving goodbye to me from his porch. The head nurse saw my emerging tears and reached out her hand to me just before I received anesthesia. All she said was, "My name is Sarah" and then held my hand. Those were the last words I remember. But her words brought peace to a scared soul getting shoulder surgery in China. You see Sarah is a special name to me. It is my daughter's, daughter-in-law's, and mother-in-law's name. Plus, many other beloved Sarah's I have known. Holding her hand gave me courage when I needed it. 

In the hospital after the surgery, and Sarah who came to see me (in the headscarf). 

In these times of social distancing and isolation, I know many people are missing a warm embrace, or a "high five" to comfort them and give them strength. With that gap, we must all compensate more to fill the voids of those who are lonely, sad, and missing their "old world." Words, in the shape of our voice, whether it is spoken or written, can renew and transform a wobbly soul.

 I am trying to learn to use words to build bridges when I cannot give a hug to reassure, comfort, or make amends. I am trying to listen with devotion to who is in front of me and be more creative with my zoom calls. I am trying to connect with others, some of who are in long-ago previous chapters of my life. Currently, physical touch and connection can elude us, but we can use our voice to love in new and unprecedented ways. As Emily Dickinson says, "I know nothing in the world that has much power as a word. Sometimes I write one and look at it until it begins to shine." Also, I would add the words that spill from our mouths can shine too. They can give light to fill up crevices that have not seen the sun for a while. In these COVID times, we need all the rays we can get. 

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