A GENTLE CARESS
by Daphna Renan
Michael and I hardly noticed when the waitress came and placed the plates on our table. We were seated in a small deli tucked away from the bustle of Third Street in New York City. Even the smell of our recently arrived blintzes was no challenge to our excited chatter. In fact, the blintzes remained slumped in their sour cream for quite some time. We were enjoying ourselves too much to eat.
Our exchange was lively, if not profound. We laughed about the movie that we had seen the night before and disagreed about the meaning behind the text we had just finished for our literature seminar. He told me about the moment he had taken a drastic step into maturity by becoming Michael and refusing to respond to “Mikey.” Had he been twelve or fourteen? He couldn’t remember, but he did recall that his mother had cried and said he was growing up too quickly. As we finally bit into our blueberry blintzes, I told him about the blueberries that my sister and I used to pick when we went to visit our cousins in the country. I recalled that I always finished mine before we got back to the house, and my aunt would warn me that I was going to get a bad stomachache. Of course, I never did.
As our sweet conversation continued, my eyes glanced across the restaurant, stopping at the small corner booth where an elderly couple sat. The woman’s floral‐print dress seemed as faded as the cushion on which she had rested her worn handbag. The top of the man’s head was as shiny as the soft‐boiled egg he slowly nibbled. She also ate her oatmeal at a slow, almost tedious pace.
But what drew my thoughts to them was their undisturbed silence. It seemed to me that a melancholy emptiness permeated their little corner. As the exchange between Michael and me fluctuated from laughs to whispers, confessions to assessments, this couple’s poignant stillness called to me. How sad, I thought, not to have anything left to say. Wasn’t there any page that they hadn’t yet turned in each other’s stories? What if that happened to us?
Michael and I paid our small tab and got up to leave the restaurant. As we walked by the corner where the old couple sat, I accidentally dropped my wallet. Bending over to pick it up, I noticed that under the table, each of their free hands was gently cradled in the other’s. They had been holding hands all this time!
I stood up feeling humbled by the simple yet profound act of connection I had just been privileged to witness. This man’s gentle caress of his wife’s tired fingers filled not only what I had previously perceived as an emotionally empty corner, but also my heart. Theirs was not the uncomfortable silence that threatens to fill the space after the punch line or at the end of an anecdote on a first date. No, theirs was a comfortable, relaxed ease, a gentle love that did not always need words to express itself. They had probably shared this hour of the morning with each other for a long time, and maybe today wasn’t that different from yesterday, but they were at peace with that—and with each other.
Maybe, I thought as Michael and I walked out, it wouldn’t be so bad if someday that was us. Maybe it would be kind of nice.
When husband and wife have achieved true intimacy, like the elderly couple holding hands in tonight’s story, they can enjoy and appreciate each other at the deepest level. That’s true at the corner deli and in the bedroom.
Some would say that “having sex” and “making love” are one and the same, but there’s an important distinction between the two. The physical act of intercourse can be accomplished by any appropriately matched mammals, as well as most other members of the animal kingdom. But the art of making love, as designed by God, is a much more meaningful and complex experience—it’s physical, emotional, and spiritual. In marriage we should settle for nothing less than a sexual relationship that is expressed not only body-to-body, but heart to heart and soul to soul.
As we discuss this subject in the days ahead, you and your partner may want to ask each other: Is our physical intimacy all that it could be?
– James C Dobson
- From Night Light For Couples, by Dr. James & Shirley Dobson
Copyright © 2000 by James Dobson, Inc. All rights reserved.
- “A Gentle Caress” by Daphna Renan. Used by permission of the author. Daphna Renan is a graduate of Yale College. She has published several short stories in several anthologies. She can be contacted by e‐mail at email@example.com.