When I pause to give thanks this week, the gift of time will be at the top of my list. I can choose to rail about the events I cannot attend, people I cannot see in person, restrictions to travel.
Or, I can be thankful for the blocks of unexpected leisure, granted to me by this pandemic. Time to read The Seattle Times, every section, work the crossword puzzles and enjoy the Pacific Northwest magazine.
We have the luxury, my son and I, to talk over events of late. There is no need to rush out and get on with his day, or mine. COVID restrictions cut him off from entertainment gigs at assisted living establishments for the last nine months, and more recently our workouts at our gym…again.
We can linger over a second cup of tea these days. I read aloud to my son, from the newspaper or inspiring books, which for Nick is better than listening to a book on Audible. Nicholas Baker is blind, and resides on the autistic spectrum. The latter situation presents a need to pause frequently, and discuss the content he has just heard. Not possible to quiz the anonymous narrator of an audio book.
Recent media posts inspired questions and concerns: What it means to go back to the COVID restrictions of this spring. We’d just been able to attend a session at our health club, but it is closed again. Nick is well known to the members, and the social interaction is every bit as important to him as the benefits of the physical exercise.
Such sadness, and longing for a return to “normal,” poured out. He frets over his inability to connect with his friends and family. The loss weighs heavily on his psyche as he struggles to sort out the reasons and understand the multi-syllable terms he hears from experts about this virus that has ended his life as he knew it.
Nick does participate in Zoom and Skype sessions with some of his music buddies and family, but being blind, the visual element — a key component in these types of communications — is not there for him. He isn’t deterred, as he is used to not seeing expressions or visual demonstrations. He frequently enjoys movies, and not just the music of sound tracks. He listens intently and is often spot on in his interpretation of actions on screen, based on the sounds he hears.
Mentally, I add “being able to see” to my list of blessings. We can Zoom with the grandkids, and place our hands strategically to the screen so it seems we do touch and connect. Kids are adaptable, and accept the reality of what is. We grownups need to learn from their example.
Nick enjoys hearing the laughter of his nephews, but yearns for the illusive element of touch. Sticky fingers patting his cheeks, hugs and snuggles connect him, ground him in the now of their presence in a way that no computer screen can.
The visually impaired depend more on this tactile sense than those of us with sight. I explained to him, the heartache was not his alone to bear. Most humans feel the tugs at their heart when they can’t connect with each other in person.
In spite of years of evolution, mankind still is “hard wired” to want to touch, hug and be in close proximity with their friends and family. Programming that began with early man is hard to erase from our brains, I say. Explained in computer terms, the element of physical touch is written on our hard drive, not stored in those temporary ROM files. I see his brows knit together as he struggles to absorb my words.
Tactile senses kept mankind safe over the millennia. I remind my son that early humans didn’t have word, spoken or written language at the beginning. They relied on appearance, on smell, and connected with each other by touching. Many tribal and religious ceremonies have specific elements that involve physical contact and are still in use today.
My son pondered all of this information. I worry sometimes that I load up too much for him to process and truly understand. After a few moments he’d grasped the essence, he came up with a brilliant term. “Mom, we are heart-wired!”
Perfect words: Our hearts are pre-programmed, the gray matter in our brains wired to respond to the handshakes, hugs and other signs of affection typically shared between human beings and even animals too.
Heart-wired. Ruminate on that a bit as you tuck into turkey and pumpkin pie this Thursday.
— By Kathy Passage
Restaurant writer and Edmonds resident Kathy Passage also occasionally submits essays for My Edmonds News.