My gynecologist texted me a happy birthday wish today. Most people forgot, even my husband, but I don’t blame him. Even though we’re ‘sheltered’ together, our disjointed emotions have us sideways. Not a lot of emotional fitness going on at the Packard household these days.

Even with others in the house–Bill and two diva cats, I miss physically touching others: the embrace of friends, greeting them with a hug or a hand squeeze. I miss touching those outside my home that I love. I was raised in a large, loud ethnic family, and the sense of touch was on overdrive. Everyone touched everyone, all the time. It could be suffocating, but I knew there was some code of goodness in it.

I’d been stewing in my sadness over this, when something happened, which got me thinking about touch “deprivation” differently.

One afternoon Dart, our cat who’s never missed a meal, decided to camp out in my chair. Instead of disturbing her peaceful nap–heaven forbid–I shuffled over to sit in Bill’s chair. That changed my whole view of the house. I noticed a gorgeous photo of my sister Linda, who’s passed on, that I hadn’t glanced at in ages. The sunlight draped over the room in a new way to my eyes, and the greens, blues and browns of the carpet were more vivid. Just by changing chairs, my sense of sight was amplified.

Lucille Clifton wrote in a moving poem: “I saw with the most amazing clarity…not the shapes of things, but oh, at last, the things themselves.” By changing chairs, I saw the room as if for the first time.

I went down the list, ok, how about our senses of smell and taste? I recalled the first time I had attended a silent retreat. As I sat down to eat, there was no rush, and no person to engage in conversation. All that existed was me, and my lunch meal. I smelled the delicious aroma of fresh-baked muffins. I tasted the spices in the soup. By slowing down, my sense of taste was amplified.

It’s said that one symptom of the COVID-19 is loss of taste. I wonder… for those who are lucky enough to get to the other side of this virus, do they gain a new appreciation for the smells and the tastes of food?

Then there’s listening. Zoom calls have taken over our lives during this time, but I didn’t want to use Zoom to meet up with friends in recovery, so I set up a weekly call by way of an old-fashioned phone number. No sight, just the sounds of others’ voices. I can hear their joy, or sadness, their peace or restlessness as if they’re right next to me. All I need is good, thoughtful listening.

I believe we take these mission-critical body parts– our senses– for granted. What if we tried to pay better attention, and use them in new ways? True, we can’t touch many we love, but we can still use our touch. My friend Brenda has picked up cross stitch, a hobby she hadn’t enjoyed in years. Another friend, Anne, said that during this sheltering time, she loved getting her hands in the dirt and planting her garden. Our friend Dave has been spending newfound time in his workshop, using his talented hands for carpentry work.

This weekend, for the first time in two months I’m going out to meet friends. We’ll walk in the park, with proper social distancing. We can’t hug, but I can see them, and hear them, and laugh with them about this uncomfortable, but necessary new way of living our lives.

We can celebrate that being fully human means appreciating the five gifts called our senses. And, I can appreciate a fully formed feline, who helped me to recognize this.