Day Thirteen: Touch

Nima, Bruce and Ali

Back home in Belmont, Canada, I volunteer in a class of 10- and 11-year-olds. They’re marvelous kids. In our culture, if an adult touches a child who’s not in his family, he’s suspected of being a bad person. Therefore I don’t initiate hugs with kids. Still, if they come at me with arms open, I don’t turn away. We hug.

Our society is so touch poor compared to Senegal. Yesterday an old friend came to visit. Ali and I became buddies when I travelled to Africa for the first time – last December. He spoke very little English and I spoke very little French but we connected. Deep communication includes the subtleties of language but goes far beyond that. There are the eyes … and there is the touch.

Ali snuggled close in the chair with me and fingered the bracelet on my left wrist. He gave me that bracelet long ago, gesturing that I should hold up my arm and then slipping it over my wrist. Back then, the beads were held together with yarn, and one day in Toronto, in my room at the bed and breakfast, the beads spilled onto the floor. Happily I found them all, and soon began the search for repair.

Kids at school tried their best with more yarn but soon that one broke as well. The owner of a jewelry shop experimented with a few things, without success. Finally she found a stainless silver chain narrow enough to enter the holes of the beads. Two days before I flew to Belgium and later Senegal, Ali’s bracelet reappeared on my wrist. And now he was touching the beads and the skin beside them.

Ahh … the warmth of the skin, two arms just resting together. There is an abiding with no desire to move on to something else. Ali is fascinated with my grey hair and sometimes runs his fingers through it. He’s also made valiant efforts to braid little bits of it … amazingly with a little success!

Ali and his brother Ansou accepted my offer of bracelets from Canada. Several kids in the Grade 5/6 class created them for the Toubacouta children. Right now I can’t remember which Canadian child provided the adornments that now rest on the brothers’ wrists. “That’s okay, Bruce. The donor will be revealed in the fullness of time.”

I’ve never been a dad or a grandpa. Oh … what I’ve missed! With the help of Ali, Ansou and a whole bunch of young ones in Belmont, I get to know all about family. Lucky me.


I’ve just spent an hour sitting beside Jody’s bed, holding her head and shoulder.  She’s crying a lot about her cancer and her life.  As Jody’s hair has been coming back over the past few weeks, I’ve enjoyed rubbing her head, letting my fingers flow through her hair.  Not this morning, though.  Just holding feels right.

Often in the past, I’ve sent loving thoughts to Jody as I’ve held her.  A personal beam of energy aimed from one being to another.  Not this morning.  Sometimes I’ve practiced tonglen as I touch her, consciously taking in her pain on my inbreath and sending out love on the outbreath.  But again, not this morning.  Instead it’s just the contact, unmediated by thought or intention.  It’s like walking on a coarse sand beach and coming upon a pocket of the finest grains.  Not really better, I guess, just different, and what I’m drawn towards today.

I think of human touch, and the difference between the hand being still and the hand moving.  I’ve received a lot of hugs in my life, and the ones I’ve loved have been still, rather than feeling that the other person was rubbing the skin off my back, or pounding me to a pulp.

On the other hand, Jody has enjoyed me scratching her back, getting all the itches out.  She’s often marvelled at how I can find the spots that are driving her nuts.  And one of our favourite activities has been Jody lying on the couch while I rub her feet.  So movement of my hand can be pretty special too.

Then there’s the amount of pressure applied.  Some of the hugs I’ve received have been crushing.  This morning it’s been a gentle holding.  No thought about how much is too much, just me wanting to touch my wife, and the details falling into place.

Holding hands is such a comfort, with the touch being just firm enough for communion.  Jody and I have wandered many of life’s paths hand-in-hand.  Such a blessing to have a life partner for silent strolling.

As Jody likely continues to decline, what can I give her?  Some words of love, yes.  The meeting of our eyes, yes.  And holding her close, yes.