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Touchstone News

The Line


You know it’s over when they let you enter without first scrubbing your hands.


This ends one of two ways. Only one means coming home with the one you love.


Safety precautions are no easier in intensive care, just clearer.


The ventilator, translucent skin, the unsteady beat of the monitors--all scream vulnerability and so, of course, of course you wash and gown and mask. That’s obvious.


The dying parent. The tiny babies. Every cell in your body wants to shield them from danger, even – especially – the invisible danger clinging to you from outside, hitching a ride closer to them. Looking for a way in; their vulnerability an invitation.


They can’t protect themselves.


Protecting them is obvious even when it’s not easy. You respect the barriers marking the threshold between the menace outside and the relative (hoped for, prayed for) safety here, inside.


When you can see blue blood rushing beneath translucent skin, it’s not hard to wash your hands.


The line used to be hard and sharp. Maybe it was imaginary, but it seemed straightforward. Safety is here: danger is there.


Now, the ink has smeared until that line becomes earth, becomes air encircling each of you and what does it mean to be safe now?


Ah, but you know what it means to keep a distance, so that you can protect.

You remember. It’s planted in the marrow of your bones.


Ah, but you know what it means to keep a distance, so that you can protect.
You remember. It’s planted in the marrow of your bones.

How do you love through panes of glass? With a heart beating so hard you’re certain your tiny babies must hear it, too. When you touch them with a gloved hand, is it warm? Do they know it’s you?


Only your voice can touch without danger. The soft lullaby you sing into the incubators when you have to leave them. And the way his heart speeds up when he hears you coming into his hospital room.


On that final morning, they let you in without scrubbing. You touch your father’s hand with yours, unwashed and ungloved, because that line doesn’t matter anymore. It’s how you know it’s over.