Your indulgence, please.

A couple of years ago I had the pleasure of getting to know a wonderful man named John on one of my workshops. He was an older man with a quiet sense of humor, a gentleman in every sense of the word and I really enjoyed my times photographing with him. At the time John was also going through some pretty hard cancer treatments and I admired how he moved through life with a sense of grace and charm- his antidote to  what couldn’t have been easy.

I asked him once what he had learned in his life. He replied without hesitation, “You never lose the need to be touched.” It hit me like a punch in the gut- a simple yet profound life truth that had eluded me for 55 years. “You never lose the need to be touched.”

And now I sit in yet another hospital room. In July I was the patient but of late I have been the son, the son-in-law, the comforter for dear ones who can’t be comforted. I have the early shift, arriving when the world is dark and still and life lies somnolent and hushed. At this time of the day the hospital floor where I sit quietly hums from monitors and machines but there is little movement otherwise, in the halls, in the rooms, or on the bed where I stare.

Visitors will come shortly- family, family friends, friends of the family- and the hall and rooms will quiver with activity even as the beds remain still. People will come in and news will be exchanged, updates provided, outlooks hopefully given and then they will sit and watch and wonder and pray. Sometimes small conversations will be exchanged with the patient and sometimes a gentle squeeze will be given but most times that is all. Discomfort is catching in hospitals.

Touching is not. Human to human, skin to skin, hand in hand; contact, stroking, the embrace of arms, the shelter of two hearts- the true medicine  of wellness and care- absent or fleeting from where I sit. I was once this way. I was once standoffish, uncomfortable with illness, emotionally overwhelmed, barely present. No more. I now dive right in, touching as long as I can, staying in contact as long as I can, being present with a prolonged squeeze, a long rub, a gentle stroke, a soft touch. It is usually inconvenient, often hard and often emotionally trying but it is always magical, always, always magical.

Thank you, John. Thank you for your wisdom, for your courage, for your encouragement, your grace.

I hope you never have to sit in a hospital room and wait for the rising dawn to bring light into the darkness. But if you do please push the darkness and sadness away with your touch. You too will feel the magic.