“Closing the Distance” by Rachel Rueckert

In March of 2021, I received a message that my grandpa — who’d been mowing his own lawn the day before — had experienced a stroke. The doctors said he had a few weeks left to live. Because of pandemic safety concerns, I couldn’t visit him in the hospital and needed to wait several more weeks for my full vaccination. I only hoped that he could hold on that long. Like so many who had watched loved ones suffer and pass away during the year, I felt an overwhelming urge to hug him, to hold his hand. That urge only increased, knowing that I couldn’t.

As the old saying goes, we tend to appreciate what we have when confronted with its absence. For many of us, that has meant a period without physical and sometimes even emotional connection with others. In January 2021, The Guardian ran an article about the negative toll a year without hugs has had on our mental health, since “[t]ouch has a huge impact on our psychological and physical wellbeing” and helps us regulate stress and pain. In the words of Diane Ackerman, “Touch seems to be as essential as sunlight,” and in Doctrine and Covenants 88:15 we read that “the spirit and the body are the soul.” At a time when physical touch has been restricted and limited due to social distancing, what have we learned about the significance of touch as embodied souls?

This issue seeks to examine the literal and figurative meaning of touch through the lens of our rapidly changing present with fresh perspective from our recent experience. You will notice a visual, floral motif throughout this issue, starting with Maddison Colvin’s cover depicting two audacious yellow flowers mired in tar behind a glass screen. The natural elements throughout this issue underscore nature and the chance to re-see our environments up close. There are pieces that speak directly to life during COVID-19, such as Dayna Patterson’s poetic invocations and an interview with Debra Marie Reynoso, a nurse. Additional essays include Andi Pitcher Davis’ “Beloved” about a Zoom funeral, Katy Ardan’s “Has Motherhood Been What You Expected?” on postpartum depression, Melissa Dickson Ricks’ “Silent on the Stage” about missing performing arts, and Orinda Darling’s “A Fish Story” which examines everything a pet comes to signify. There are also pieces that explore touch more literally, like Sydney Pritchett’s “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” as well as essays that veer more metaphorical, such as being touched by the kindness of strangers in Cybèle Marie D’Ambrosio’s “The Belle of the French Quarter,” or by the haunt of the invisible ghosts we cannot touch in Judy Ou’s “A Tale of Ghostly Hauntings and Tiger Dreams.”

In the end, I did get to see my grandfather before he died. Thanks to the vaccine, I keenly felt a privilege that many others could not experience: the chance to visit him in hospice each day, hold his stricken, sun-spotted hand, and consider the words of poet Ada Limón in “The End of Poetry”: Enough of the osseous and chickadee and sunflower and snowshoes… enough of the longing and the ego and the obliteration of ego…enough of the air and its ease, I am asking you to touch me.

Regardless of where you find yourself reading this issue — whatever your current “normal” — we hope you will feel touched by these pieces. As the new incoming Editor in Chief, I am grateful for the legendary editors who preceded me and feel humbled by the task ahead. I’m excited for the adventure to come alongside my Managing Editors, Sam Layco and Carol Ann Litster Young. Thank you for trusting us with such an enormous responsibility. Thank you for reading and witnessing. ⋑

(Photo by FOODISM360 on Unsplash)

Rachel Rueckert is the current editor in chief of the Exponent II Magazine. She is the author of EAST WINDS.

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