I’m eleven, standing in front of a broad painting of a broad woman lying down with no clothes on. My father wants me to look closer — forget what the painting is about, don’t be embarrassed, but see the brushstrokes, look how many colors in the flesh! — but I don’t want to look closer. He puts his hand on my shoulder, nudges me towards the canvas.
I’m not used to my father putting his hand on my shoulder. My shoulder is bony and his hand is big. It swallows me up and makes me small. It feels strange.
Jake the barber touches me efficiently, an admonitory nudge to the head when I slip out of position, a tattooed hand braced against my face while he details a sideburn. I take the touch for what it is. But if it’s a bad week, I confessed once to a friend, I might close my eyes and pretend that the barber is not a barber, and that he is touching my face for other reasons. What do I want?
K.’s roommate is out of town. It hasn’t been long since we met on the JiM weekend, and our newfound friendship(?) is as heady as wine. We are watching Shoot ‘Em Up on his couch. Halfway through, he asks if he can put his head on my shoulder; soon he is cradled in my arms and is stroking my face. I open my eyes and frown. I don’t understand why there is no electricity, why he is nothing but a weight in my lap.
This is stupid. Not in a we-shouldn’t-be-doing-this kind of way, but just in a this-doesn’t-make-sense kind of way. What did I want? This wasn’t it. His hand feels like a piece of meat.
In the kitchen, several beers deep, one of the five of us remembers a video the rest of us have got to see, this moment. He pulls it up and we hunch over his phone. S. crooks an elbow and rests it on my shoulder, bending in closer to see past me. Why is he touching me? Is he doing it to show me that he’s not scared to touch me, even though I’m gay? Is he doing it to learn to overcome his own interior reluctance?
No, he is touching me without thinking because it is natural to touch your friends. I could get used to that.
Jesus is on his way to the centurion’s house. He passes through the crowd and somebody touches him.
“Of course somebody touched you,” Peter says. “It’s a mob scene out here. Makes more sense to ask, Who didn’t touch you?”
But Jesus knows it was a different kind of touch than that. You can touch a sick man and put your whole self into that hand, fill it with intention and compassion, focus all your qi in it. When Jesus heals with a touch, maybe this is how he does it, by loving through touch: Take heart, he says with his hands, and only secondarily with his voice.
There are different ways to be touched, too. When the woman in the crowd touches Jesus, all her thirst is in her hand. She is like dry, cracked ground, ready to accept his rain; she is a flagpole, and he is a lightning storm.
This is why Jesus feels her touch. He feels the sudden drop in His interior voltage.
Your faith has healed you, he says. But it is also his touch, and hers, the combination of the two: touch as a mode of love, love that heals. When we touch each other, is it like when he touches us? Is it different in kind, or only in degree? Is he able to heal because he is God, or because he is perfect Man?
What power is in the hands of a man who loves?