Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Before the Words

An attempt to describe the indescribable

As a teenager I experienced a sensation, a visceral awareness that occurred only prior to sleep. It was enveloping, comforting, a touch that was not a touch. It allowed me to, momentarily, but just long enough, forget my worries, let go of my fretting, and fall into a restful sleep. It seemed familiar, like I knew it from before, and yet I had no idea what it reminded me of. This has continued, but only sporadically, throughout my life.

Once, many years later, I was sitting in the rocking chair next to my son's crib. Both of us were sleepy after his middle of the night feeding. I placed him over my left shoulder to pat and rub his back. Rub his back. Ahh … That’s the feeling, I realized.

A sensation between my own hand and my chest. Concretely it is like I’m rubbing my chest but the skin in numb. It is the sweet sense of a warm loving somebody between my hand and me. A touch that is not a touch.

I see now that what I was sensing as a teenager was a preverbal, somatic memory: My hand on my mother’s back, as she held me over her shoulder, perhaps, and rocked me to sleep.

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