6 am, and its time for the day to begin. I see the light on in the hallway, left on for my youngest son at night. The light shines through the crease in the door frame, as I open the door and expose my senses to the first light of the day. Thoughts of thankfulness fight for supremacy against the evil forces of morning grogginess, stewing in quiet anger that the slumber has expired. I reach for my oldest sons doorknob and turn it with anticipation to share the gift of first light, and our shared discontent for the sound of the starting pistol.
“Hey,” I say to my motionless preteen son. “It’s time to get up.” Body still, only his head turns towards the door, and he looks at me expressionless. I let the door swing open and leave the room. Before long I hear him coming down the hall. His facial expression labored. Tiptoeing through the morning muscle aches, eyes squinting from the piercing light. He begrudgingly answers “hey.” never raising his chin off of his chest, eyes fixed towards the floor, eyebrows raised in acceptance of the responsibilities for the day. “Don’t just stand in the shower,” I tell him, as I do every morning. The response, routine, empty, and irked as always, “got it.”
6:40, and the reality of the day has set in. I am aggravated by the fact that I am making breakfast for someone who is 12 going on 24. Thinking, shouldn’t you be making your own breakfast if you’re so grown? Meanwhile, a burning motivation not to miss the bus arises within him. A ride to school would ensure at the minimum, another thirty minutes of lecturing, no way could he chance that. Stuffing whatever morsel of food that’s in his hand into his mouth unceremoniously, he hastily grabs his backpack and heads for the door. “Wait,” I say, with bashful disbelief. “Oh, sorry,” he says turning back to my open arms, held out expectantly towards him.
I can feel his arms around my stomach, he can fit his arms all the way around me now. I’ve shrunk, and he’s grown, and the more we hug our way through hard times, the more we become stronger. He still holds me so tight. Even while carrying his bookbag, even when he is angry, even when he’s in a hurry, he holds me so tight. And everything just melts away. No matter how hard we try with our words, sometimes it just gets us nowhere, or at least, not where we need to be. But when we stand on top of a mountain, or even at the top of the stairs, and I put my arm around him, and he puts his arm around me, we travel to another plane. No longer do I feel the pain of being a parent, and the sagging responsibility. And I hope, that he no longer feels the pain of being a son, and the tug of expectations, and just for a moment, he feels what I feel. One, together.
7 am, having left behind the moment of embrace, I look upon my son’s floor with disgust. A food wrapper, dirty clothes, and is that a wet towel on the floor? Hey, things are looking up, my younger son rarely ever gives me any trouble until he is fully awake, that will be at least an hour. Its just Cheerios, and a cheery glow for the rest of the morning. Can do!
The door cracks and moans with the sound of a newly painted door, some days it startles him from his sleep. Other days it takes additional rallying to get his tiny little feet down onto the cold hardwood floor. He contorts quickly to the sound of the door, “good morning, time to wake up.” No response. I let the door swing fully open, inviting the morning light from the hallway to compete with the night light left on by his bedside. “Good Morning,” I say one last time, leaving the room, teaching him to fend for himself in this battle that we humans endure every day of our lives……Morning.
Morning, dreaded by most, and conditioned to be acceptable by others. Born a morning person? That’s absurd to those who don’t rise easily, surely there is no such thing as a morning person.
I hear little footsteps coming down the hall, very slowly, grogginess felt in each step. He appears at the doorway to the kitchen, such a familiar expression on his face. Being back in bed, given what his body is telling him, is the most logical choice. Even his four-year-old brain knows that. But, chocolate cereal, on the other hand, is a beautiful way to numb one’s entrance into the day. Subsequently forgetting that you would rather be asleep, and therefore jumpstarting your day.
His hair is matted, not on one side, but on all sides from the symmetrical disorder that tossing and turning all night has created. Like a genetic echo, his expression mirrors that of his brothers. Similarly, eyes fixed upon the floor. He approached slowly in a zombie-ish fashion, torso slightly bent left, the destination set for my knees. Eyes held consciously closed, guarding against the now even brighter kitchen light that beamed on his fire engine red daniel tiger pajamas. He sluggishly begins to raise his head to speak, desperately trying to uphold his manners. “Good Morning!”, I interject showing my pleasure that he has made the arduous journey from the bedroom all the way down the hall, into the kitchen, fought the evil morning light monster, and did it all with a willful determination. He sighs, “huhhhh, good…morning.”
I bend my knees, looking into his eyes acknowledging that I am glad to see him, he isn’t thrilled, still tired, ok. But, his eyes open slightly wider in silent excitement. I open my arms to him. He never turns me down, never, not once. I wrap my arms around him so thoroughly that they wrap around and touch me again. I rise to my feet, and I just hold him in our morning embrace. After a few seconds, his grip becomes tighter and tighter, and even tighter around my neck. I don’t say anything, I just stand there and hold him, sometimes for a whole minute.
In those sixty seconds, that hug conveys something stronger than words, and possibly even actions ever could. I could talk to both of my sons, for 12 hours and tell them all the ways that I love them. I could also tell them all the ways that they make me insane, and how that’s ok too. But when we have those moments its all in there. Everything is said without saying a word, not one single word, yet the message is more loaded than any other.
With our ears we listen to music, we listen to each other. We hear things that change us.
We see the words on the page, we see art, we see people or the world around us for what we think it is. We also see things that change us, we unmistakably see things that alter us. Our sight and our ability to hear affect a disproportionately large portion of who we are. Smell and taste no question have an impact on our lives as well, but nowhere close to what hearing and seeing do for us.
What about touch, however, what about feeling? Human contact is beyond belief. It would appear it is beyond what we are currently able to comprehend. When we touch, it sends our bodies into 5G. We are able to transfer huge files of emotion without saying a single word. It allows for deep organic interwoven growth between people that would not otherwise be possible. When I hug my sons, it says something that can not be told in words. It is a file that can only be shared through touch. And the resilience of this connection is built over time through contact. Each day a hug. Each day, saying I love you. Dowsing every fight with love and hugs, trying our best to erase hard feeling by squeezing tighter, and tighter, like a wrench tightening a nut. A nut that secures the catabolic pipeline of discontent, and reopens the flowing fountain of youth that is appreciation and cooperation.
The violence inflicted upon those who desire the touch of another is unspeakable. A child in a detention center longing for the touch of a mother. A newborn baby ripped from the arms of a mother, and sold, for a price, to another. Growing up feeling deep inside that the touch of another feels violent, it feels foreign. Children on the playground teasing one child, “Ewww, stay away, don’t touch me.” We have all seen it, and for many its more than a memory, you can feel the emotional pain of that child. The animal inwardness that it propagates, and the pain that precedes their every move like dark clouds as a storm approaches.
Touch. Could it be what makes us more human than anything else? When I am lost in the embrace, I feel human. Everything extra, it just goes away. Everything petty, it dissipates. Everything good, it grows. Wrap your arms around someone that you love today. Then just hold them there. Don’t let them go. Watch everything small and insignificant be crushed beneath the weight of that love, and behold a suitably deep human connection form as it emerges from the dirt like a seedling. Growing with roots so broad, so thick, and so strong, that no storm could ever topple it.
Aaron L. Carroll
Photo by Marco Bianchetti