A Little Touch on the Hand

I am walking my dogs. They are dragging me along the road. My shoes make skid marks on the pavement.

Walking my dogs is like trying to walk a herd of caffeinated water buffalo. My dogs exert so much pulling force that my shoulders pop from their sockets. When this happens, I generally say bad words. Neighbors who happen to be nearby glare with disapproving faces. But I am used to these kinds of scowls because I was raised Southern Baptist.

Right now, I’m taking the dogs to the bay. There’s a spot near the water where everyone from nearby neighborhoods visits. It’s beautiful. There is something enchanting about our bay.

If you visit this secluded spot at sunset, you will see lots of people who had the same idea you had. Husbands and wives. Kids on bicycles. A happy young couple. A teenager with a fuschia mohawk and multiple facial piercings.

It wasn’t always crowded. Long ago, my wife and I would visit this spot and we’d be alone. Then word got out. Today, everybody and their brother knows about it, so at sunset it’s a Gaither Homecoming.

But tonight it’s empty. There is nobody here except me and some lady. We’ve met before, but nothing more than a few neighborly greetings. I don’t know her name.

She is late sixties maybe early seventies. She sits on a log, overlooking the big water. Our bay is 127 square miles of brackish blue and, like I said earlier, there is something enchanting about it.

The woman’s head is bowed, she doesn’t look like she wants to be bothered. I keep quiet.

Then again, I have enough of my mother inside me that I have to ask questions. I am nosy. There is nothing I can do about this. I don’t even try to fight it anymore.

“Ma’am, are you okay?” I ask.

She opens her eyes. And I feel bad that I have interrupted her.

“I’m praying,” she tells me.


Well. I’m no fool. It would be rude to ask someone what they are praying about, especially a stranger who looks sad. At this juncture, asking more probing questions would be an unforgivable breach of social etiquette.

“What are you praying about?” I ask.

She gives me a weird look. But I am emitting my invisible “tell-me” rays to her. She is powerless against them. She says, “I’m just having a hard time.”

She’s been in her house for sixteen days during the coronavirus quarantine. She hasn’t left except to drop something off at the post office once. She has talked to her kids on video calls, and she’s done emails with her grandkids. That’s all.

“I didn’t think it would be this hard,” she says. “I used to go to the store and that was my socialization. Or I’d go to yoga class, and I have friends there. But I guess we weren’t real friends, you know? Guess it was just yoga.”

I wouldn’t know a thing about yoga. So I just nod.

She goes on, “You never know how disconnected and alone you are until something like this. And now I don’t ever see anyone, I don’t get touched by anyone, I don’t even have an animal to hold.”

Currently, I am restraining two clydesdales on leashes who have dislocated crucial joints in my body.

She looks at them. “I wish I had a dog. We used to have a dog when my husband was alive, but they’re both gone now.”

I ask if she would like to be assaulted by my dogs.

She says, “I would love to pet them. But I’d better not.”

My dogs saunter near her, she reaches out a hand to let my bloodhound and alleged Labrador sniff her. She starts to get a little weepy. Not a full-on cry, but a few tears that never actually fall.

“It’s so hard,” she says.

Now I am crying a little too. I told you that I have my mother in me. I can’t just watch someone cry without driving the lead car in the parade.

“I’m lonely, too,” I tell her. And it’s true. I’ve been inside for seventeen days now. I miss people.

But she and I behave as responsible world citizens. We keep a ten-foot distance between us. She doesn’t actually touch my dogs. But at this moment, it seems like I need to ask something.

“Ma’am,” I say. “I know this is a probably not a good idea, but would you like a hug?”

Immediately, I feel bad that I have asked. I start to think about the news headlines and all the infection rates. I wouldn’t want to cause another person to get sick. Shoot, I don’t want to get sick. But I figured I’d at least ask.

“Oh, I want a hug,” she says. “But I don’t think I’d better.”

She is silent for a moment. I feel stupid for having asked.

She says, “What if we shake hands? I can always wash my hand afterward.”


So we shake. We don’t pump hands, we just hold them. She squeezes. So do I. We stay like that for a few seconds. She even closes her eyes for a moment.

“Thank you,” she says. “You’re the first person who has touched me in half a month.”

“It’s an honor,” I say. I am sort of making a joke, but I really do mean it.

She lets go first. Then walks away. I am left holding two leashes and looking at the water.

Yes. There truly is something enchanting about our bay.


  1. Bill Norris - April 2, 2020 7:02 am

    Sean…..You have a gift.

  2. Sandi. - April 2, 2020 7:22 am

    This post is a tearjerker, Sean. Statistics prove that human touch is vital to good health, even in newborn babies. You have such a remarkable grasp of knowing what people need. I agree with Bill Norris’ comment above: “You have a gift.”

  3. Celia - April 2, 2020 7:55 am

    We don’t realize how important human touch is until we don’t have it. Those of us social distancing with someone else in our homes should feel especially blessed. I thinking of the many people who are alone in their homes, especially the ones in facilities where they are restricted to a single room or two. Thanks to you, Sean, I’m going to make some phone calls and send some written notes today to friends who are alone. PS….I love your bay too!

  4. Jasm Elliot - April 2, 2020 9:28 am


  5. Barb - April 2, 2020 10:02 am

    Perhaps you were the answer to her prayer even before she was finished. You have such a good heart. God bless you and help us all as we’re in this together.

  6. Barbara S Smith - April 2, 2020 10:48 am

    Simply lovely

  7. Beth Ann Chiles - April 2, 2020 11:29 am

    My eyes are leaking as always. My husband and I have decided that we need to hug a minimum of 4 times a day and I am tracking it on my calendar to make sure that we don’t miss a hug. Somedays there will be more than 4 but 4 is the bare minimum. I miss hugging people and I miss just seeing people but I have hope that this is going to pass and hopefully by summer we will be back to touching and hugging necks and loving on each other like we used to. Keep yourself safe and accept this virtual hug.

  8. Vanessa - April 2, 2020 11:47 am

    Sean, you have been giving me a hug each morning, before I get out of bed, for over two years now! I cannot imagine starting my day without your hug. I say this often, but I believe this one is my favorite! You are a blessing to me and to so many people and I envy your incredible talent. Thank you!

  9. Wanda Corbin - April 2, 2020 12:06 pm

    Thank you for your beautiful column today. I could feel it & also shed tears. I am that lady, too. I have lived alone for years and get lonely at times. But it’s totally different when the choice to socialize is taken away. I crave a hug so very much! I miss my grandchildren, great grandchildren, nieces and nephews so much it hurts. I vow to find a way to see them more after this is over.

  10. Marcia Lynn MacLean - April 2, 2020 12:19 pm

    Always thinking of others and putting them first…that makes you special. During the quarantine, I actually have time to read. I’m thoroughly enjoying your latest book.

  11. Phil - April 2, 2020 12:26 pm

    There’s something enchanting about your stories, too, Sean. My bet is that you and your dogs will see that dear lady many more times at that same spot. You, Thelma, and Otis truly blessed her day Isn’t it great to meet and make new friends?

  12. June Gibson - April 2, 2020 12:34 pm

    Sean, you are the most sensitive, loving, compassionate man I have ever seen. God has surely blessed you in a way that very few people have. Thank you for being you.

  13. Barb Fisher - April 2, 2020 12:48 pm

    I could have been this woman – alone with no spouse. Human touch is more important than we realize. This is harder than most people realize…. God bless us all.

  14. Maria - April 2, 2020 12:53 pm

    Sean, even though you can’t hug us or physically touch us, know this, you touch our hearts in so many ways every day. God Bless you for being there when our hearts need to be touched.

  15. Sharon Brock - April 2, 2020 1:20 pm

    Thank you Sean. We are huggers in my family. My mother insisted. From my prospective, not being able to hug my grandchildren is the hardest sacrifice. They have been warned that when I can, I might not let go.

  16. Anne Godwin - April 2, 2020 1:24 pm

    Your words, which show your heart, are a blessing to us all. Thanks for being the answer to prayer.

  17. Kate Medina Writes - April 2, 2020 1:31 pm

    You sir, are a beautiful and talented breath of fresh air. Thank you for sharing your story with us. So good. So necessary. I’ll be passing it along. Blessings.

  18. Dawn A Bratcher - April 2, 2020 1:42 pm

    Oh, how it breaks my heart for those who are alone, especially now during this quarantine. As with a lot of couples, their best friend is their spouse. She and I are probably the same. I have a lot of friends, but if anything happens to my husband, I would be left alone because we do everything together.

  19. Donna - April 2, 2020 2:08 pm

    Sean, Ditto what you and everyone else here has said. I live alone (with my cat) and miss big squeezy hugs. Poor kitty acts completely imposed upon that I’m insisting on hugging her for my touch fix 🙂

  20. Joe Patterson - April 2, 2020 2:17 pm

    At first this isolation was ok but I am a hugger and lord knows I miss it thank goodness I still have my dog Praying for this to be done soon so we can get back to interacting with people Much harder on single people Thanks for sharing and caring

  21. Jeanne butler - April 2, 2020 2:30 pm

    So sad. That poor woman. I hate this damn virus and all the heartache it is causing. I’m lucky. I have my son and 16 year old grandson with me. But last night my son came home from work and he has a fever. He has to go to work. We are sure it is a sinus infection but with the damn virus so scary. Can’t see our doctor until tomorrow as he is off today. And he will still have to be tested for the virus or can’t go back to work for two weeks. Our country is in such bad shape as is the rest of the world. God bless that woman and you Sean. Stay safe. Love you.

  22. Linda Clifton - April 2, 2020 2:35 pm

    I have a husband with me & although we are in our seventies sometimes I’m over with the touching. Lol! So thankful I have him though. I cannot imagine being totally alone & not being able to see family.
    I lost a few tears on this one but they were tears of gratitude ! Sending love & light!❤️🙏

  23. Connie Pearson - April 2, 2020 2:44 pm

    You’ve got a good Momma.

  24. Kat Leon - April 2, 2020 3:22 pm

    Such a sweet moment to actually connect deeply with another person. It’s very hard living alone not to be able to hug others or spend time together. Just to touch someone is more important than we realize. This may be one of the harder adjustments during this time. Beautiful story.

  25. Chasity Davis Ritter - April 2, 2020 3:51 pm


  26. Linda Moon - April 2, 2020 3:54 pm

    I miss people, too, and I miss hugs like yours, Sean….bone-crushers and full of joy! Bays, rolling hills, and Mountain Peaks are enchanting for me, so I’m sending some of these images of beauty along with virtual hugs to you and the praying woman right after I take a brisk walk in my hills!

  27. Glenda Hinkle - April 2, 2020 4:04 pm

    If you will stand still and hold their leashes tight forcing them to stand beside you and only take one step at a time, then pause until they sit or stand beside you looking up for your next command (another step), it won’t take long for them to catch on. You are letting them be “in charge” by letting them have the extended leash and walk in front of you. NEVER let your dog walk in front of you because they assume that means they are in command. Be strong and jerk them back if you have to. Now, as I wipe my tears, I just want to say how beautiful this column is and how absolutely precious you are.

  28. Jan - April 2, 2020 4:04 pm

    We are all starving – for human interaction, affection, for life the way it was only a short time ago. We will return to a more normal life in due time but I wonder if we will have come to appreciate it much more? Will even the annoying telemarketer calls be welcome then or will it just be business as usual … back to our same old ways? Thanks Sean for the reminder that there are those who are totally alone and need our prayers and our concern.

  29. Sara Gwynn Brackett - April 2, 2020 4:12 pm

    Sean, YOU made my day…. Thank You Heavenly Father for blessing the world with Your Precious Gift of Sean…
    You gave him such an important gift & he shares it so beautifully…..Thank You, Father

  30. Dean - April 2, 2020 4:56 pm


  31. Cathi Russell - April 2, 2020 5:04 pm

    Typing with tears in my eyes. Thank you Sean!

  32. throughmyeyesusa - April 2, 2020 6:44 pm

    I’ve said to anyone who’ll listen that being in lockdown isn’t such a burden when you’re quarantined with your best friend.

    Yes, it’s getting old. Yes, it’s getting dull. Yes, we’re out of fresh fruit, veggies and salad greens. And, Yes! I’m tired of washing my hands and disinfecting surfaces, the toothpaste, and the handles to everything just because we went for a solitary walk on a deserted beach at daybreak. But I’m not in isolation when I have my husband of 53 years (next Wednesday) at my side. We’re touchers and huggers and haven’t even begun to get on each other’s nerves.

    It doesn’t even matter that this should have been day 6 of a cruise instead of Day 16 of lockdown. We are blessed to be safe, to have enough to eat, and especially blessed to have each other. ❤️

  33. Steve Winfield (Lifer) - April 2, 2020 7:09 pm

    I’m surprised no one else said it but I truly hope you’ll seek out this woman & at least help her from being completely alone. She needs to adopt an older dog. A very settled one that no one else wants. That would be magic.

  34. Jenny Young - April 2, 2020 7:37 pm

    I just cannot imagine. Sometimes I think the isolation is much worse than the illness.

    I am still getting lots of touches & hugs. I’m the daytime caregiver for my 2 yr old grandson …you cannot refuse to hug your grandson when he insists on hugs. I’ve written a few letters to people who are alone but this is motivating me to write more.

  35. Greg - April 2, 2020 7:51 pm

    Thank you ,Sean , for being such a good human being. You made her day. It is amazing what a little kindness and compassion can do for a fellow traveler.

    I also live down here in your part of the world. And, yes, our beautiful bay is enchanting . You are very likely to see me one afternoon or early morning fishing in my kayak . I’ll be the one in the orange Auburn University cap (for luck and safety ,of course).Thank goodness the governor’s executive “stay at home “ order specifically exempts fishing!!!
    It’s my religion.

  36. Afi - April 2, 2020 8:53 pm

    Yes he does

  37. catladymac - April 2, 2020 9:27 pm

    When you see her again, please let her know that many shelters are in need of fosters for cats and/or dogs at this time. This may cause a “foster fail” but of it doesn’t the shelters will take the animal back. Anyway, she willhave another sentient creature to hug.

  38. Judy - April 2, 2020 10:24 pm

    Wow. This made me cry. A dog or cat isn’t an option for me because my husband is adamantly opposed. I thrive on hugs and my tank is running low. I didn’t know it would be his hard.

  39. Tammy S. - April 3, 2020 4:46 am

    What an amazing Mom to have raised such a caring and insightful son. There are studies that show hugs can boost immune systems, and lower blood pressure. This is attributed to higher levels of oxytocin that is released when we give & receive a hug. God definitely did not create us to be alone. I think of so many like this sweet lady who just needs a moment of human connection to make it through all this. Once we get the all clear we can have a huge American hug-fest and hopefully all understand in a deeper way the importance of one another. I miss my friends. I miss the routines. And yes, as a hugger, I miss that human connection. Thanks for touching all our hearts through your stories Sean. You are a daily, ray of sunshine in all of this. Big hugs!!!

  40. Shirley Andrews - May 14, 2020 11:40 am

    I have worried about others like her during this time and I feel blessed. I have had my lab to hang on to…..she has been a trooper during my season of fear and solitude. God bless this woman and bless you.

  41. Marge - May 14, 2020 3:01 pm

    I am crying. I often do during and after reading your postings. I am blessed to have you in my world now, Sean, and you bring me laughter, tears and longing for the “good old days’ whatever they were! I miss human touch so deeply but am blessed to have my 2 year old pup by my side. I am alone, just turned 80 and miss my husband (gone for over 3 years now) and my family during this covid crisis. It seems as though I am living in a bubble and am afraid to pop it! It would be OK to be in my bubble if my husband were still here with me!

  42. Aunt Si or Martha Black - May 15, 2020 2:38 am

    The human touch…….. itxs the greatest gift we have to offer. It’s wonderful and can be so heart healing. It’s that way because it was created by God himself………….

  43. Samuel Seetin - May 15, 2020 9:05 pm

    Bingo Sean,
    Not all channels to memory close for those elderly suffering from dementia…
    Waiting in line for geriatric swimming pool to open, I mentioned a exception to prescriptions to long life by a recent story about a 109 year old man who drank, smoked cigars and loved guns and was still alert. This triggered a story from Mr. Bridgewater an 85 year old swimmer standing next to me. He recalled visiting his 105 year failing grandmother before she passed who did not recognize him. She said “thank you for coming but I don’t know who you are…wait a minute give me your hand” and smelled it, paused, saying “you are Julia’s son aren’t you?” Bridgewater was stunned. Our merciful Lord must have left one of the five senses open for her to trigger memory of grandson’s smell and say good by.
    By the way Bridgewater’s grandson is the Quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings.
    I wrote this. Uncle Sam


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