Walter Wangerin Jr., in his utterly beautiful book, Letters from the Land of Cancer, tells a story from the winter of 1982, when he had surgery to remove the lowest lobe of his right lung. Anesthetized, he dropped into that deep drugged sleep that is “the end of consciousness, the end of memory.”
He writes (178):
I recall dwelling in a sort of dream of darkness: a being without form or shape, a consciousness drawn down to a pinpoint. And then this: I felt the (re)creation of my cheek. A warm sensation was actually granting shape to my cheek. If I though anything, I though: Cheek. And then: My cheek. A new creation!
Next I was given a forehead. Then eyelids (closed, sightless); a chin and jaw; then, by a sudden fire, the back of my hand.
Where was this coming from? Slowly he awoke to the presence of his wife beside him, sitting in the darkness, “caressing me with her hand: my cheek, my forehead, and the rest of it.”
This touch, this relationship, this love, summoned him out of his dark unconsciousness, called him back to himself and back to his wife.
I wonder whether this isn’t the way babies become conscious of the world, first by sensing and considering the self its parents communicate to it by stroking, embracing, nursing.
I wonder whether this isn’t the way the dead come to life, caressed by the palpable love of Jesus.