Thursday, April 23, 2015

human touch

Not just any touch. Human. After today's healing service, at St. Paul's Cathedral, downtown Syracuse, I wondered, "Why does this move me so?" When the priest puts the oil of chrism on my forehead, and even more when her hands press upon the top of my head, I am moved. I am touched, literally and figuratively. Why is that? Is it out of a deep hunger? A longing for human warmth and connection? To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, in "Prufrock," it is that and so much more. But if I am honest, it is not touch alone. It is smell as well, though I can't seem to name any. (There was no incense, yet in some deep recess the burning wax of candles resonates, I'm sure. And bread, morsels of sacred bread. Isn't all bread sacred? In our family, as kids, back in Stamford, Connecticut, if we dropped bread from the kitchen table, where we dined, our custom was to pick the bread up and kiss it. Was the practice imported from Poland or Slovakia? I should ask my mom, 98.) So today, snowflakes touched my skin, or could have, this late in cruellest April, but they ain't human. My head will touch my pillow and find comfort there, but it ain't human. Which begs the rank and obvious question, "Am I human?" That is not as morose or as depressing as you might first think. Back in high school, Father Giuliani often said we had to be human before anything else, certainly before we could claim to be Christian (or atheist, for that matter). What is it to be human? You could make an argument, couldn't you, that the absence of touch, inhabiting the arid, monastic cells of the Desert Fathers, vacant of human touch beyond my own skin, my own fragrance, would pin me with the solipsistic label inhuman.

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