The sun did not rise today. It sprang. Did not slowly inch into the sky. Catapulted. Went from being a clean, sharp, compass-drawn arc behind the tree line to a barely-round blotch midway up the sky, its lower half covered by a cloud like a towel wrapped around its waist. A towel made of long-staple Egyptian cotton. Extra thick. Talcum powder soft.
I wanted to touch it. I wanted to reach through the windshield, through the early spring morning, through the light that left the sun 93 million light years ago, and touch that towel, run my fingers through the pile, feel it tickle the thin skin on the backs of my hands. I wanted to hold that towel up to my face and feel the just-out-of-the-dryer warmth on my cheeks, let my eyelashes catch on the loops like Velcro. I wanted to wrap my whole self up in that towel like a caterpillar inside a leaf.
But I remember my Greek mythology. Icarus flying too close. Phaethon driving too close. The moral of those stories? The sun must not be touched. A respectful distance must be kept. And so I pulled back my hand, curled it into a firm grip on the steering wheel and steered my chariot north, away from the heat.
We are, all of us, good at that. Equating a desire for beauty with danger and putting up barriers to prevent ourselves from getting too close. Asserting a need for personal space and justifying the behavior that allows the actual need for human connection to go unmet. Resisting the urge toward relationship out of fear that our reach will be met with empty air.
We are good, really good, at not touching.
Most of the time. But not all the time.
Just the other day I was visiting at a friend’s house, sitting on a stool at the kitchen counter, when another guest, someone I know but not well, reached into the hair on the crown of my head and began playing with it — fisting a handful and then letting go three or four times. I didn’t even turn around. Curly hair, I’ve learned, is like pregnancy. They both invite touch. Not just intimates, but near strangers, feel comfortable in reaching out to stroke the taut round belly of an expectant mother or the tight ringlets on someone else’s head.
Almost as though caught in an irresistible magnetic pull exerted on the digits, the hand rises and gently falls into a pat, a rub, a grasp and fluff. The guarding of one’s own personal space and the reciprocal acknowledgment of another’s is suspended for just long enough to make contact, to reassure the one reaching that, yes, the curiosity is real.
Though we generally tend to trust the sense of sight over the others, preferring eye witnesses to any other kind, honesty requires that we all admit to having been fooled by a mirage or two. There is a reason that we greet returning heroes, long-absent lovers and newborn babies not just with adoring glances, but with hugs and kisses. Touch proves the reality, spans the chasm, eliminates the distance.
Somewhere on the road between Oliver and Egypt, on that stretch where the pine trees grow like the pickets in a very tall fence, I stopped thinking about touching the sun. At just about the same time, the morning light suddenly began pulsing through the trees like a strobe and falling on my arms — the sun touching me. Wrapping me up in a big, warm towel. Extra thick. Talcum powder soft.