A pair of white gloves was draped beside an open picture book. I didn’t notice them at first because my eyes were drawn to the startling colours on the satin pages. I slid my hand across the expanse of paper, enjoying the silky texture beneath my skin. It was a giant picture book laid out on a stand in the hallway of the old house and there were no words. As my fingers twitched at the corner of the page, I paused – what if it ripped?
The other night we were invited for a meal at the home of a couple we had met briefly a few weeks earlier. We’d been welcomed in warmly and had sat by the open fire sipping Prosecco with brandy and nibbling canapés. It had been time to move to the dining room, and as I followed one of our hosts along the passageway I hadn’t been able to resist a closer look at the book. Each leaf was about the size of a television screen.
The gentle voice of the owner flowed over my head as she noted my interest and told me something about the origins of the book, which I instantly forgot. “There are gloves to turn the pages,” she said. That was all I heard. I stepped back and smiled. I thought she’d been joking. But no, there really was a pair of white gloves on the dark wood table beside the book. I realised my ‘crime’ and snatched my hand away. I’d dared to touch the book without the gloves.
During the meal and in the few days since I’ve wanted to go back to that hallway and slip on the gloves to turn those giant pages, soak in the colours and images and find out what the book was about. It was obviously very precious. So precious that it couldn’t really be touched.
I have some precious books of my own. But they come in two kinds. Some are precious in a valuable and historic sense, which means you have to be careful when you handle them and they must be wrapped away and stored in a safe place. Others are precious in another way. They are my favourite books from childhood and so well read they have become torn, dog-eared and stained. My all time special – More adventures of Caroline – has no cover at all, just the inside pages are left. I haven’t a clue what happened to the cover.
When we love something very much it inevitably gets used, moved around, packed and unpacked and so it gets worn and sometimes damaged. (Readers of the Velveteen Rabbit will have heard this before!)
And that’s because when we’re attracted to something we want to touch it – we reach out our hands to see what it feels like. It’s an important part of the experience and so it seems alien to put on gloves to turn a page. Touch is one of the reasons I prefer reading a book to a Kindle. I like the feeling of turning pages and in the same way I enjoy flicking through magazines or rustling a newspaper. Touch connects me with objects, ideas and stories in a way that just looking doesn’t cut it.
So here is my Advent thought… God knew we needed someone who could physically be there, who could touch us and hold us, demonstrating love in a way we could feel it.
Isn’t that what we’re all waiting for?