June 13, 2013

WILLIAMS: What sense could you give up?


---- — If you had to give up a sense, which one would it be? This is the kind of stuff I ponder when I’m lying in bed at night.

For living things, I think the hardest sense to lose would be touch. It is so often our connection to the things we love — kissing a parent, tousling a child’s hair, stroking a pet, hugging a friend. And it is not only with people but the world around us. Think of digging in the warm soil of a flower bed, the feel of fresh linens at night, kneading dough, turning stone or metal or cloth into something beautiful.

For me, the next most necessary sense is sight. Without it, I would lose all the activities I love most – writing, reading, watching NASCAR, drinking in the beauties of nature. There is Braille, of course, and I’d make the effort but I’m probably too old to ever learn to use it with facility. So, sight would never be the sense I would willingly give up. I couldn’t bear to think I’d never see a hawk flying high in the sky or a perfectly blooming rose or a plunging waterfall, never race through another suspenseful book or see Jimmie’s Johnson’s car take the checkered flag.

Taste? Are you kidding? How many of the most pleasurable times in our lives are associated with taste? That first cup of coffee in the morning that starts every day off right. The sensuous feel of cocoa fudge melting in your mouth. Mom’s fried chicken and chicken gravy, the greasy confluence of flavors in pizza. I’m too self-indulgent to ever willingly forego the sense of taste!

I sometimes think I could do without hearing. I like silence. If I’m home alone, I generally leave the television off. But then I think of music and the way it has played counterpoint to my life. Any piano rag takes me back to the Eagles in Logansport where our whole big, close family danced together. I think Jim and I fell in love partly because we both loved Bob Dylan when no one else knew who he was. Music and places are intertwined — CCR was the Club Royal: ZZ Top was the Warehouse.

Besides music, I think I would miss train sounds, low and poignant from far way, their cries becoming more urgent as they near — “get out of the way!” — before fading away. Bird calls in the morning, babies laughing, coyotes howling. Sounds often bring comfort like the furnace kicking on, the grating noise of a snow plow releasing you from a snowy prison.

And lastly, smell. You think you might miss smell less than sight or sound but still, think of never smelling another lilac or bread baking. Never to breathe in the fragrance of fresh-mown grass or the salty sea air of the ocean. Smells don’t have to be pleasant to evoke good memories. I used to love the stale beer and cigarette smoke odor of a bar when you went to clean the next morning, weird as that sounds. And I actually enjoyed the oily, greasy, acrid smell of busy factories. And the burning gas and rubber of a NASCAR track.

The value of a silly exercise like trying to decide what sense you’d give up comes not from the deciding but in recognizing what we normally take for granted. Taken together, they form a perfect medley of what it means to be alive.

Vicki Williams is a columnist for the Pharos-Tribune. She can be reached through the newspaper at