Friday, March 8, 2013

The Power of Touch

“Sometimes, reaching out and taking someone's hand is the beginning of a journey."
Today, as I was driving down the freeway, I looked over at the car I was passing and witnessed the driver, a young man, reaching over to the passenger side and stroking the back of his hand alongside the cheek of the woman with him.  They were driving a rusted out old car, filled to the brim with camping supplies along with two kayaks perched precariously on the roof.  They didn't look like they had much, but they sure looked like they had love.  How did I know?  The soft, gentle stroke of his hand on her cheek reflected the love that was in his heart.  The look on her face as she leaned into that touch also spoke of her love for him. 
It reminded me of a scene my husband and I witnessed as we were out for an afternoon walk a few years ago.  We were strolling along the main street in our small town just enjoying the sunny day.  As we approached an older couple we watched him help her from her walker to the passenger side of the van.  He had already opened her door and now gently supported her as she made her way into her seat.  It took a bit for her to get in and settle but as soon as she did she too reached out her hand and put it gently against the cheek of her husband and with a gentle smile on her face whispered, "Thanks!".  It all happened in a few seconds but it touched our hearts and when we speak of it now we both have a clear picture in our heads of that brief, loving exchange.  The image still brings tears to my eyes.
When you live in a large, loving family you don't really think that much about touch.  However, I just spent two weeks away from my family and one of the things I missed the most was their touch.  The feel of their hand against my shoulder or their arms wrapped around me hugging me hello or good-bye or perhaps, just hugging me 'because'.  With two new babies in our family there is no shortage of snuggling and really, there is no other touch in the world that compares with a warm baby curled up and fast asleep against your chest, especially a newborn.  But these aren't the only ways we touch.  Think of the many ways you and your loved ones touch.  My husband and I love to snuggle up as we watch television.  We sometimes dance in the kitchen.  We hold hands when we walk.  When I am feeling stressed (which is less and less these days) I simply put my hand up against the back of his shoulder and I can literally feel the tension drain from my body.  Touching is a part of each and every day for us and for our family. 
Our two older grandchildren love to wrestle and trust me, this involves a lot of touching . . . and giggling. . . and laughing. . . and lots and lots of crazy names (chest thumper, arm thwacker etc. - which are really more harmless then they sound!).   We read a lot of books in our family and this always involves snuggling.  In fact, research shows that the physical interaction that happens during reading is more important than the actual physical exposure to the words.
When I got home from my trip I had mentioned to my family how much I had missed their touch.  My two youngest daughters told me that they had just been talking about this the week before.  They had been out for a walk together with their babies and had passed an old folks home.  They discussed whether or not it would be a good idea for them to visit this home with their babies as they both know how much their nanny (91 years old) had enjoyed snuggling the babies on our last visit with her.  I thought it was a terrific idea.
While I know it's dangerous territory these days I always touched the students I worked with.  A hand on the shoulder or an old-fashioned hug go a long way in making anyone feel better, not just young children. 
All of these things happening have made me wonder how starved for touch some people may be in their life and how we, as individuals, can give this small but precious gift to those living without it.  What do you think? 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Limitations? What limitations?


Last July I read a post that spoke loudly to me.  It came to me through my daughter-in-law's sister (my monkey sister) Stefanie Thomas.  Stefanie writes regularly for an online Christian 'magazine' called, She Loves ( ).  The link is to an article called, A Love Letter To My Body.  This letter created a response that I'm sure even the author was surprised by and soon many, many women had responded with their own stories. The letters made me laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time, but mostly they made me cry.  Stories of cancer, accidents, eating disorders, abuse and sadness reflected the complicated relationship that many women have with their bodies.  Mixed in amongst the sad stories were also stories of courage, strength, perseverance and beauty, letters from women thanking their bodies for all they had been through together.

As I age (sometimes not so gracefully) I think more and more of the times when my body was a non-entity to me.  I could run, jump, throw, swing, ski, swim, golf and play with the best of them.  I didn't often think about the sheer beauty and power of being able to do all of these things, the freedom to just play whenever I wanted. 

When I was about 17 my brother and a friend of his came to watch me play ball.  Softball was my great love at this time and stayed at the top of my list for many more years to come.  I remember my brother telling me after the game that his friend had noticed me right away because I 'moved like an athlete'.  I had no idea if this was a compliment or not but I took it as one.  When I think of that now I think how quickly I could snag a ground ball, how aggressive I was on the bases and how much I loved to be in pressure situations. I used to stand on the field thinking, 'hit it to me, hit it to me', especially if we needed that out.  I wished to be up with two down, runners on the bases, bottom of the ninth, one run behind.  I didn't always get the out or the hit but I believed I could and I believed I would.  I also believed that it would always be this way.  Not so.

I have had, and continue to have, some health problems that have limited my ability to be active over the last few years.  But, the simple truth is that I have not taken care of my body in a way that allowed it to be the best it could be.  Those "letters to my body" that I read woke me up to the simple fact that I too had 'blamed' my body for my limitations.  In some ways, I continue to do so.  I have become used to not being able to do things and have accepted this with nary a fight.  This is not my way.  I don't accept defeat easily in any part of my life so why have did I give up so easily? 

A couple of weeks ago I travelled to Costa Rica with my very fit sister-in-law and her very fit husband.  Sherri had invited me to attend a yoga retreat that she was teaching and I almost didn't go.  Why?  Because I did not feel fit enough.  I have just started practicing yoga and wasn't sure I would be up to the standard of those attending a retreat.  I wasn't sure I could "do it", whatever "it" was.  In the end, the invitation was too good to pass up. I took some extra yoga classes and when I meditated there was always a portion of my practice that focused on accepting myself the way I am.

Before we headed to the mountains for the retreat we spent a few days at the beachside village of Jaco.  As we sauntered through town one afternoon we passed an adventure company advertising a series of day excursions that all looked interesting.  We settled on a four hour trip into the rainforest that included a waterfall walk.  It all looked so lovely in the pictures. we got to the end of the Landrover trip up the mountainside andscovered was that this would be a three hour trip walking down the mountain and then back up through the riverbed and through 8 waterfalls.  Did you hear the part where I said "up"?  Well, for a few years now I have had considerable trouble with my arthritic knees (already having had one surgery).  Going downhill is tough at the best of times but steep trails are daunting.  Up is a little easier but this 'up' was quite a lot different than the 'ups' I am used to.  This 'up' required a rope attached to the rock so I could pull myself up the very steep parts.  Walking through the riverbed was my worst fear.  My knees do not do well on bumpy terrain and I knew I wouldn't be able to see where I was placing my feet.  What had I gotten myself into?

Well, you want to know the truth?  I had gotten myself into one of the most fun days of my life.  It hurt going down the hill, I'm not going to lie to you.  But the up - the up was terrific.  We went slow enough for me to feel my way onto solid footing.  At each of the waterfall pools we stopped for 15 minutes or so to swim.  The cool water was lovely on my knees.
You can see the rope in the top left of the picture and that rope will always remind me not to be so accepting of my limitations.  If I had known what the walk entailed I would not have gone.  I would not have believed I could do it.  I learned an important lesson that day about my limitations.  While I had blamed my body for the things I could no longer do it was in fact not my body, but my own attitude that has been holding me back.  No longer.  This day opened up some new possibilities for me, possibilities that had always existed but I had not seen.  I went on to enjoy a wonderful yoga retreat experience that was also enriched by having experienced the waterfalls.  I now knew that I could do all I needed to.  I had a newfound belief in my heart and in my body.
I learned new and wonderful things in the yoga retreat.  I met wonderful women who shared their stories and their hearts.  But I do think the whole experience would have been a little less rich if I hadn't experienced the waterfalls.  Thanks to my wonderful body for opening my eyes to all it can be!