Run, coffee (skim milk, two Splendas), New York Times Sunday Edition and Pandora station: Nina Simone.
After a week and weekend of doing and giving, Sunday morning is my time to be alone with my thoughts. With my hair pulled up, and a slouchy sweater hanging off my shoulder, I allow myself to feel no guilt for these two hours. From 8am to 10am, I sit cross-legged in contentment on the upholstered couch I always say I never use enough.
Sundays are my bliss. But a few weeks back, in the middle of that bliss, I found myself in tears.
In the paper was a brief excerpt from a series on living in New York with a missing sense. The Times’ had already run a piece on living without sight, a piece on living without hearing and on this day it was running a story about a woman living without touch.
Katherine Vasquez can’t get enough of New York City. She loves its neon signs. She loves its holiday lights. She loves its museums, its bookshops, its parks, its fashionistas. But for Ms. Vasquez, who was born with spina bifida, getting around can be a challenge. She can’t feel her feet, so she navigates the city in a manual wheelchair.
“It’s like walking on clouds,” she said. “I have no sensation of the ground.”
Reading on, I learned that Katherine was from the Bronx and was only 29-years-old. She said she had dreams of running in Central Park, letting her feet feel the pavement. When the Times’ reporters asked her what she would do there, she said:
“I would jump around and on top of benches, climb a tree, dive in a pool.”
I’m emotional always, but something in those words had moved me and I couldn’t figure out what it was. Before I could really delve into my thoughts, my Blackberry beckoned and I was pulled out of my Sunday morning bliss into the rest of the day. But yesterday, I had a moment where I remembered Katherine’s story and got it all at once.
I was running my fingers against a railing in Riverside Park when a piece of chipped pain jammed under my nail. And in that second of wincing, I thought: what would life be like if you couldn’t touch?
Without the sense of feeling, what would your perception of pain be? How would you detect and show affection? What would a kiss, a hug, a wipe of the brow, a muscle contraction mean to you? Would heartbreak feel any different if you couldn’t compare it to a kick in the gut? What would be the other metaphorical equivalents for love be if you couldn’t feel what it was to be “swept off your feet?”
Even with all the pain in the world, I am grateful I can feel chipped paint. I am humbled by this world even in moments of pain. For most of us, it’s our emotion receptors we struggle with the most. Feeling too much hurt, sometimes even too much happy can unnerve us. And sometimes all that feeling is enough to make us want to go numb. But that feeling, our ability to connect, even to our pain is often the best reminder that we are truly living, truly in touch.
Blocking out the world is a useless attempt. Going numb is pointless too. So jump on your park benches now, because as one of my favorite spoken word poets, Sarah Kay says it, “no matter how wide you stretch your fingers, your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain you want to heal.”
Today, embrace the touch of every emotion, even the ones you’d give anything not to feel. Speak to yourself being grateful for the reminder- “you are here, you are present, be alive.”