thigmophillic- (adj.) touch-loving, relying on touch to navigate an environment

I worked this up for a Moth Story Slam, so imagine I am telling this story to you in person, not that you're reading it.

So let me preface this by saying that I am not a religious fanatic. My politics are independent if not dispassionate. I probably drink more excessively than most college frat boys. That said, I am a Christian, and when I am not busy being an artist, I even work for a church. Which happens to amount to enough hours every week to get me medical coverage.

I am pretty even keeled, and despite my admission to excess on occasion, this is the totally sober story of the afternoon I was unknowingly given LSD, or rat poison, or had a supremely radical religious experience. Or maybe some combination of the above.

Let me set the scene. I had been under a lot of stress. Easter in the Church is a great celebration, but it is proceed by 6 weeks of solemn contemplation, and when you are in charge of disseminating information to make people solemnly contemplate the necessity of Jesus dying on the cross, because we all suck without him, well, that combined with seasonal depression, might just get a person down.

The past few months I had been feeling pretty dead and unobservant. Totally exhausted and wearied like I was just coasting through the weeks until I could get to spring. Lenten contemplations were not making it better.

So, I was sitting in a West Village coffee shop after work before I headed back uptown to work an evening service. I had eaten a cinnamon raisin bagel, toasted, with cream cheese and a cup of coffee. I was working a second cup and reading Henri Nouwen's The Return of the Prodigal Son on recommendation from one of my bosses.  The book had been amazing thus far. The kind that if you ever want to finish makes you fight the urge to stop every few paragraphs to sit and listen to the stream of consciousness running in your head.

I finally did pause for reflection long enough to note that I had been fingering the handle and rim of my coffee cup for the past ten minutes.   Suddenly, I felt this deep emotional connection with the smooth warmth of the porcelien beneath my fingers.  My heart started being fast. If I could hang onto how that felt in that moment, everything would be ok. The world would realign if I could come to some sort of comprehension of that smooth warmth.

I yanked my hand back, checking myself, totally stunned by the natural power of the mug that I seemed to be channelling, and at the same time chaztizing myself for being totally insane. But, senses and sensibilities arguing, I had to check.

Touching with just the pads of my fingers, to limit whatever it was, I went back to the cup. I started to run the tips of my fingers over the surface of the mug, and began to connect with the depth of the feeling there.

My heart was pounding in my temples and behind my eyes. I've never done acid, but the closest thing I can relate it to was taking adderall in college. I remembered someone telling me LSD and rat poison are checmically similar and wondered if it would have been in the bagel, cream cheese, or coffee. But why would they drug me in the first place? And who was they anyway? It had to be an accident, but how?

Consiracy theories running though my head, I closed my eyes and sunk into it this beautiful feeling, trying to push out all the hodgepodge sounds of the shop. I am certian I had a look of ecstasy on my face, and blush to think what any observer must have assumed I was thinking about.

Then it hit me, what I was feeling and channeling, almost storing up inside me was beauty made tactile. And it was most clearly a gift from God. This realization was so emotional that I found myself swallowing back tears of relief that I wasn't dead to everything good in the world after all.

Here, in a coffee shop, through the warmth of a mug, God was loving me.  Deep into the core of my being I could feel this power radiating through textures.   I felt the paper napkin's dry ridges, and the rough wood of the table.   The greasey surface of my unwashed jeans, but returning to the mug as the most pleasant touch and deepest connection.  

Extremely emotional, embarrassed to be moved to a vulnerable half-manic state moved by a freaking cup of coffee, I got up and left the coffee shop. It was time to start heading back up to work anyway. Once outside in the cold, I sunk my hands into the  pockets of my jeans. But the thin fabric on the inside of them captured me. What an underapprciated and wonderful thin cotton. I started to be overwhelmed by it's delicacy.

I took my hands our of my pockets, resolved to look like an idiot and walk with my fingers spread like they had webs, stiff at my sides, out from my hips to avoid further stimulation.  I probably looked a little like a zombie.

But still, though I was confronted with sounds and visual sights overtaking my mind, I couldn't not think about the cold air blowing between my fingers and on the front of my hands as I walked down the street.   My heart was racing with pure overwhelming appreciation of feeling, and with wonder at what surrounded me.  Never before had the sense of touch meant so much to me.

As causually as I could, I ran my finger tips along a plywood construction wall.  And on the metal gate of a fence.    When there was nothing to touch without being conspicuois, I rubbed my finger tips together feeling like it was nothing I had ever known, totally new and free, and amazing.  Not at all something of my own body that had been with me forever.  The feelings and textures I was drinking in had always been there but they were totally and completely new. God had always made his creation out of small, good, simple things, I had failed to see them as of late.

And then there was the whole fact that I was going crazy and was doing the one thing that even born and raised New Yorker's avoid. Touching as many surfaces as I could.

I knew I must be having some sort of attack.  These things didn't just happen: sudden epiphanies to everyday beauty, and grace, and even truth.  An all-of-a-sudden recognition of the goodness that withstands in creation, even man-made creation. 

Aiming myself towards the uptown 1 train, my eyes caught a used clothing store. I slipped back into the mania, and heart picked up the pace again.
All the fabrics to be felt! I walked, half ran, up and down the asiles running my hands along fabrics, pausing every now and then when something caught my attention.  I would just stand there, caressing a blouse or worn leather cowboyboots as if they were my lovers.  Finally when the woman working there caught me with a puzzled, look and I left the store, regretting not making it to the handbag section.

That one barista did look at me funny and then said something as I walked out in my trance. I had though he was trying to flirt when he brought the second cup of coffee to my table for me. But maybe he was the one who slipped me something. It was an independant vegan coffee shop, it seems expected that someone has access to questionable substances.  
But no, that was actually crazy.  I was just in a total, scary, and wonderful condition brought on by suddenly, all at once, perceiving God's love for me as an individual in everything I could feel. Its that simple. …

I knew the roughness of the bark on that tree was all for me, because no one else cared to touch it or absorb it's power, its beauty. But why was this happening to me? Why wasn’t anyone else paralyzed by this sudden awareness?
Then the humor of it hit me. The passage from Nouwen that I had been concentrating on read, "The choice for gratitude rarely comes without some real effort. But each time I make it, the next choice is a little easier, a little freer, a little less self-conscious. Because every gift I acknowledge reveals another and another, until finally, even the most normal, obvious, and seemingly mundane event or encounter proves to be filled with grace."

This was exactly, literally what I have been praying for for the past few weeks.  "Lord, lift me out of this haze.  I want to see your beauty and love in all that surrounds me."  I hadn't expected the prayer to be answered, so when it was, and quite literally, it scared the shit out of me.

Besides, this couldn’t be drug related or craziness because I was very aware of the fact that I knew I was headed for the subway and had to find something to hold for the ride or I would be rubbing my hands on the poles and doors and who knows what else. And I didn’t have andy Purell. I was aware and present enough that I ripped a small leaf off of a hedge to hold between my index finger and thumb. 

I was able to sit on the subway and close my eyes, just rubbing the leaf between my fingers.  Smooth side, rougher underside, with the vien down the middle. turning it over, and switching hands.  I made it all the way to my stop, and having slowed my heart rate on the ride, emerged from the subway a little less overwhelmed than I had gone down. 

I webbed my fingers again for the walk to the church, and realized that with the cold they had begun to numb. By the time I got to the church I had lost most feeling, and with it, the awareness of the details. Though relieved to not have to feel everything, I was a little disappointed when I thawed and the hypersenstivity didn't come back.

For a few brief hours I could feel something that no one else could. I was special, and so priviliged to be in a place with so much mundane beauty around me.
So whether it was the Lord God Almighty talking to me through a coffee cup or a substance less dangerous talking to me through a coffee cup, it pulled me out of a hole I had been wallowing in. Perhaps it was some combination.

I am not fundamental enough to think the Lord wouldn’t use "altered states" to get to people. There too many stories that I believe about people finding Jesus at rock bottom. I'm not saying Jesus told me to do drugs, but, for the rest of Lent, that is what I will solemnly contemplate, God's sense of amusement in granting my prayers.