Monday, January 30, 2012


February brings to mind many things in my life. There is of course, Valentine’s Day and a time to reflect on love. But I want to talk about something more primitive then love. I want to talk about the power of touch.
Several years ago, when I came down with lupus, one of the first symptoms I had was a painful sensation in all the nerve endings of my body. It started at my feet and slowly worked its way systemically up, until every part of me, from my toes to the top of my scalp felt as if it were being stuck with small needles. I was convinced that somewhere in this vast world, was a replica doll of me being held in the hand of some unfortunate soul I had wronged. My body was calling out in the darkness of night for me to listen. Its warnings were a beacon of anguish for the revolution that was about to begin. It confused me. I didn’t have a diagnosis yet and therefore was confused by its revolt. The simple act of wearing clothing was a painful endeavor worthy of any medieval torture device known to man. Kissing was out of the question, and hugging was merely a lost memory. My family didn’t quite know how to handle this. The familiar exchange of a pat on the arm brought guilt to the faces of my loved ones and only pained me more. The tiny touch of my students even became snuffed from my daily living.
As with most things we take for granted, I didn’t realize how important it was to be touched, until I no longer had it in my life. Isolated on an island that was inhabited by the world of tenderness, I was forced to watch the lives of the people I love unfold before me. I gazed upon them as if I were watching from a movie screen, no longer the participant. I learned to sit in a chair wearing lose clothing, careful to only let the furniture touch the most conservative outer edges of my shell. The simple effect of a breeze would send shock waves that would travel the length of my arms and rest at the point on which it would slide off the edge of my skin. To express my love for my family, I would touch the tip of my index finger to theirs in a primitive wordless world of communication.
Skin is the largest sensory organ the human body has. Touch is the first sensory we develop as infants it is the one that stays with us until death…long after we lose our sense of hearing, sight, and smell. “Touch” refers to four different sensory descriptions: pressure, pain, temperature, and muscle movement. It is believed that without touch, some species can die. It has a power even we don’t understand. Ancient medicine relied on The Laying of Hands in the form of healing. It is something that is still widely used today. When it was removed from my life, I felt wilted.
This new way of living made me think of the thousands of people who walk this earth without touch; the ones who live in isolation. I have always been an affectionate person…this more than anything was killing me. It was one of the worst tricks the wolf could play on me. I found myself becoming solemn and quiet. My body gestures completely changed. I subconsciously stepped back from close proximity of those around me. I no longer bent down to be eye level with my students who were young. I lived in an out of bounds world. I was hopeful that with the new meds this constant agony of sensitivity would be relieved. I was afraid it had changed me forever. Could the lack of touch, even for only a few months, be enough to alter ones personality? Then four months later I got my answer. I turned to the feel of a tiny tap on my shoulder.  Looking down into the big brown eyes of a five year old she gestured for me to get closer. Bending down so as to hear her tiny voice she whispered bye Debra as she put her arms around my neck and bid me farewell at the end of her class. I hugged her back feeling the love in my heart. As I watched her leave the room, I thought, not only am I back….but I had never left.

Sunday, January 1, 2012


So it begins, a   new year. I love New Years day. Not because of the festivities the night before, or the meal to be served at noon, or even the parade and fanfare you see on TV. I like New Years because it is in essence…a redo.
I start every New Year’s Day with organization. It is basically my spring cleaning. But unlike most it isn’t just my house I am purging. It is all the excess baggage I seemed to have collected over the past year. I am a person that likes to throw things out, get rid of it…good riddance. It was one of the few lessons my mother taught me. “Debra, don’t weigh yourself down with all that stuff.”  No truer words were ever spoken. My mother, of course, was referring to my room as a teenager. Today, it has so much more meaning.
“STUFF” it is an interesting word that’s meaning varies from person to person. Everyone has their own “stuff” to contend with. It could be physical clutter or emotional clutter. For some it is both. Because it is easier to remove the physical clutter than it is to purge the emotional, I let the pure act of throwing things away guide me to the final goal of ridding my life of all my unwanted misgivings. With every item I toss…random office papers…clothes I haven’t worn in a year…I think of them as having a corresponding emotional item. Perhaps past issues of your favorite magazines could also symbolize issues from the written pages of your own life that is finally time to let go of. A worn out pair of jeans may be a symbolic connection to a relationship that has been wearing you down. An old pair of running shoes could be the equivalent representation of a task you have been trying to accomplish that seems to go nowhere. Outdated spices that no longer have their strength are suddenly the thing in your life you once desired that has lost its vigor and therefore its importance. With every toss of an item a space is reserved for new concentration and other goals. By the end of the day you are tired yet renewed and ready for the New Year.
Every Christmas my family gives me a new Moleskin brand notebook. These are pocket size sketch books found in an art supply store. In this Moleskin, I can draw, make lists, and reflect. Sometimes I will write a sentence that comes to me at the most unexpected times, and refer back to it later in something I am writing. On New years I take this book and first write the date and then I record all the things I would like to accomplish in the coming year. I find myself revising it through the year and on December 31st I go back and review it. I laugh at the things I felt I should have done and I sit fulfilled at the items I did accomplish. I revisit the drawings and phrases I have written and see myself again for the first time as an observer rather than a self criticizing being.   At the end of my New Year’s Day, with a clean slate, I am ready to begin this process again.
Some may call these New Year’s resolutions. I have never liked that word. To resolve to do something sounds to me like finally agreeing to do a difficult task, in which you dread. In the end when you don’t “loose those ten ponds” or “paint those ten paintings” all you’ve accomplished is a feeling of failure. I ask you, how can that be good for anyone? On my list for 2011 was to read from cover to cover, “War and Peace” I got to page 100 and decided to put it down. Then I picked up “Life on the Mississippi” by Mark Twain, and read it for the fifth time. Upon its completion I set it on the table next to me and picked up my netbook computer and I began to write. In the end my failure to read “War and Peace” was an accomplishment in other ways. This is how I wish to live my life. To take the bumps in the road of unaccomplished deeds, and search a way to turn it around. I wasn’t always this way. It took a conscious decision, on my part, to take control of my own attitude and therefore destiny. It was actually an item on my list from 2007; one year after I came down with lupus.
So, how do you achieve this? It takes practice to accomplish this mission of “turning things around.” First you must acknowledge the unfinished task; and then ask yourself why? Glance back at the time in your life when you were supposed to have achieved this goal and really think about what stopped you. Then look at what you did instead. Once you have done all that…find an item in your life not worth keeping, name it that unfinished task, and toss it in the trash. The weight that will be lifted will make you lighter both in heart and spirit.