Carolyn’s Online Magazine
BLIND MAN’S TOUCH
The November 19, 2015, WordPress prompt asks what texture is particularly evocative to you. However, I’m taking this prompt to my immediate thought when I saw its title, The Power of Touch.
Russ was white-haired, blind, a lifelong resident of the small town, and a member of a fundamentalist church. I was brunette-haired, sighted, a new resident of this same small town, and a member of the local United Methodist Church.
In fact, I was the wife of the new pastor, whose assignment would last only five years.
This was an unlikely foundation for a special friendship.
Russ’s white hair was due to his heritage as an albino. So was his poor vision. As bad as it was, he still experienced the sighted world up to age 19 when an error during surgery thrust him into blackness. For the remainder of his life he entertained—or horrified—children and vulnerable adults when he removed one of his glass eyes.
I learned a lot through Russ as our friendship developed. One was how the power of touch helped him manage his world. Below are some photographs that illustrate this aspect of his life.
Russ taught me how to walk along beside him, guiding him along the way, helping him avoid hazards. Instead of taking his arm I was to offer him my arm and let him take it. His power of touch applied just the right pressure, enabling him to follow my jigs and jags around said hazards.
One of the casualties of the 1995 Wesley United Methodist Church fire on December 18th was an altar cross. It was bent and from the heat of the flames. Russ reverently held it, seeing it through the power of touch. He felt the cold metal, the curve of the its new shape, and felt the horror that hot flames cause.
The church organ was destroyed. It was rebuilt at a company in Buffalo, New York. When the parts arrived Russ examined some of the new pipes, feeling their construction, their varying sizes, and the cold metal used in their production. He marveled that sweet church music would come from these pipes.
Russ followed the power of touch to locate the metal door handle on the wood door of Wesley United Methodist Church.
Russ’s power of touch informed him that the church was constructed of stone with a rippled texture.
What does this sign say? The power of touch made Russ aware there was a warning sign on the church door.
Russ went with me when I photographed this hay-bale Easter bunny on a local farm. He walked up and down the sculpted rabbit, the power of touch enabling him to feel the sharp edges of the straw on the bale, the shape of the rabbit’s ears, the uneven farm ground under his feet.
The power of touch—essential to my friend Russ and to our relationship—is just as important to life itself. It is one of the most essential elements of human development, a profound method of communication, a critical component of the health and growth of infants, and a powerful healing force1…genes, cells and neural circuits involved in the sense of touch have been crucial to creating our unique human experience2.
We live in a day when people are afraid to touch. It’s socially unacceptable because of its dangers. What are we—you and I—missing?
I fear we are missing much of what Russ taught me—that for children and adults, touch is the glue that makes social bonds1.
1 Bowlby, 1952; Harlow, 1971, 1986