About twenty years ago, three of my good friends decided to go skydiving. I had no idea what that was. I shivered as I heard them describe to me that you jump off a plane in tandem with the instructor – who is behind you – from an altitude of 11,000 feet, free-fall for 5,500 feet at about 120 mph (200 kmph) and then glide the final 4,500 feet with the parachute open.
Another friend and I decided to accompany our friends to Western Massachusetts to enjoy the scenery and watch them skydive. I was in an unusually peaceful and quiet mood that day, which likely contributed to my last-minute decision to participate in that adventure. Surprisingly, I continued to be calm and unafraid up to the point of exiting the plane.
As I positioned myself on the wing of the plane and felt the great altitude, the strong wind and the noise, I remember my breath being taken away as a feeling of panic swept over me. My mind went blank. The next thing I remember was a gentle touch on my hand, which woke me from my stupor and made me think, Oh that’s right! I have to jump! I took my hand off the doorway, jumped, and, from that moment on, I felt sheer joy. In contrast, my friends later confessed that they didn’t remember or enjoy those first moments, because they were still in a state of unconsciousness from the high anxiety.
Once on the ground, the pilot of the plane explained to me what that “gentle” touch was; he was trying to unhook my hand which was fiercely gripping the plane’s doorway, and he couldn’t. He said it was impossible. I wondered what would have happened if that touch had not awakened me and brought me back to the present moment. There was something about that touch that freed me from my fear and allowed me to experience and enjoy the exhilaration of flying. I felt like a bird! It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience I will always cherish and never forget and, believe me, once is enough!
What is it about the touch of someone’s hand that brings us so much comfort and courage? I contemplated this question recently when I heard one of my favorite Gospel stories at Sunday Mass. It was Matthew 14:22-33, the story of Jesus walking on the water. Jesus says to Peter “Come.” While Peter keeps his eyes on Jesus, all is fine, but the moment he shifts his attention to the strong wind, he is gripped by fear and starts to sink. Fortunately, he still trusts in the power of Jesus enough to cry out, “Lord, save me.” Immediately Jesus stretches out his hand and catches Peter. As I listened to this Gospel passage, I wondered if Peter felt interior strength and peace when Jesus touched his hand and grabbed him.
Like Peter, when we are in the midst of personal, familial, or societal storms of any kind, whether big or small, do we remember that Jesus Christ is always waiting for us, asking us to come to him, inviting us to trust in his power, his grace, his mercy, his presence? Do we trust enough to know that in Jesus we can find the strength, the courage, and the peace that we need to deal with whatever is disturbing or worrying us?
When we let ourselves be touched by God’s love, we can in turn touch other people. Perhaps with a simple smile or a compassionate approach to a situation, we can make others aware of the touching presence of God that is also available to them. A touch might be all that is needed to alleviate others from their sufferings, and free them from their fears, so that they can jump off into whatever life throws at them with confidence, freedom and joy.
Dulce Soler, PhD, was born in Tarragona, Spain. She grew up in Madrid in a Catholic family with 8 brothers. She drifted from the church while in graduate school in the US. She considers herself very fortunate to have been invited back and to continue to discover the treasure, wisdom and beauty of our faith.
Dulce is a biologist who works in pharmaceutical R&D developing medicines for various diseases.