After the Pittsburgh Pirates victory over the Cardinals on Monday night, following a long skid, my husband and I and two friends hugged and jumped and squeezed hands. Following their second victory last night with Garrett Jones’ homerun in the bottom of the 11th inning, his fellow players mobbed him at the plate, hugging, slapping him five, punching his arm, batting his head, leaping all over him.  They expressed their excitement, appreciation, their joy in tactual ways, as we had the night before.

It reminded me of a personal essay I published a few years ago in the Post-Gazette.  Here are a few excerpts:

I am a devotee of the sense of touch.  When I lost my sight at twenty-six and some hearing at twenty-eight, I learned to distinguish between minute patterns of bumps to read Braille.  With a cane acting as an extension to my arm, I felt the ups, downs, and textures of sidewalks and the objects that might trip me.  Touch seared facts into my memory.  When my guide dog led me into a sign post, causing my nose to bleed, I didn’t forget the location of the offending post, and neither did she.  To function in a new place, I moved from wall to wall, feeling every piece of furniture; to memorize phone numbers or addresses, I felt them in Braille. My hands and fingers became tentacles.

            In those difficult days of loss and new challenge, I reaped the benefits of the reassuring power of touch.  People’s hugs, caresses, and strokes all transmitted support, affection, and sympathy. 

            Because these tactile communications are so diverse, yet so subtle and familiar, I didn’t realize their power.  Like most people, I’d grown up considering touch a pitiful step-sister or step-brother to the more dominant, valued older sibs, sight and hearing.  The pedophilia scandals of recent years have further diminished the perceived value of the sense.

But my disabilities made me conscious of the power of touch.  Fingertips are astonishing sense organs.  Feet are even better and, frankly, the tongue best of all.  And they are just parts of the largest sense organ –skin.  The envelope over my whole being, skin connects me to others and to the environment. With the skin’s infinite number of nerve endings, I touch and am touched.

The erotic aspects of the sense are astonishing. When I was pregnant with my children, I learned that parenting provided a new tactile pleasure.  I enjoyed my babies’ kicking in utero.  When they came into the world, I nursed them for over a year, playing tummy games all the while.  Since baby carriages and strollers were difficult to manage, I carried them in front packs and backpacks or held them in one arm and walked for miles.  I parented them in the manner of a mother chimp, intertwined, our hearts beating in unison.  And now, in about three weeks, I’m going to have the pleasure of grandparenting!

Meanwhile I walk for miles with my guide dog, feeling her wiggle through the harness.  I ride a tandem bike, bob in a tandem kayak, swim through warm and cold spots of a lake with a rope around my wrist attached to the boat my husband rows.  I hike and dance and relish the spring wind, summer rain, though not the winter snow.  I live my life with antenna-skin, always keeping in touch.


About Sally Hobart Alexander

Blinded at the age of twenty-six, I left California and elementary school teaching for life in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, I met my husband, got a Masters' degree in social work, had two kids, now 35 and 32, and became a writer. Surprisingly, the writing career led me full-circle to teaching, and I teach in Chatham University's M.F.A. program and lead two writing critique groups. Always, since the age of 26, I have traveled, not in the stereotypic darkness attributed to blindness, but a mist. My blog then, "traveling through the mist" will deal with issues in my culturally different life as a blind writer, teacher, speaker, and human being.
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