I’m brown. It’s the second or third thing I notice about myself every morning. The others are that I’m alive and that I have things to get done by the end of the day. Depending on the state of my bladder, the second thing is sometimes shuffled. In any case, but by the time I make it to the bathroom and walk by the mirror, the fact that I am brown works its way into my consciousness. Brown. Rich, deep and luxurious. A brown man engaged with the process of living once more time.

I like that. At fifty six I’ve grown comfortable in my own skin. It’s taken some work but I am definitely at ease being who I am. I thought about this as I lazed on the deck letting the blazing spring sun fall all over me. I wasn’t tanning. When you’re brown a tan is something that’s just redundant. I was simply laying there letting the feeling of rest wash over me. My skin was hot to the touch. I loved the feeling.

 Skin is the largest organ in our bodies. Most of us never think of it that way. To us, our skin is the thing we work hard at darkening in the summer, soften with moisturizers in the winter and take care to cover with adequate layers when the cold descends. It’s the thing we wash with the most discipline and it’s also the thing we recognize when we touch each other. .

            Strangely, it’s also the first thing we recognize when we see each other. I know there are a lot of people around who say, “I never notice the color of his skin.” But the fact that they even have to make that statement is proof that they do. People of color understand perfectly the notion that all of us enter a room skin first. We can’t help it. It is our most obvious attribute. 

            When I think of skin I think of chasing flyballs on a baseball diamond. I think of how wonderful the sun felt on my arms and face – the skin of them. I think of how alive I felt, and how even in my fifties the sun on my skin energizes me. I think of the elastic feel of it when I was younger and how elegant the line3s and wrinkles make me look nowadays.

            I think of love when I think about skin. I think about late nights and rolling over and feeling the warm skin of my wife’s body against me in our bed. I think how grateful I am. I think how nothing else in the world measures up to that feeling. I think about the way I want to remember that connection – skin first, all of me wrapped around her. I t5hink about how her skin leaves a lingering presence on my own. Skin, I suppose, has a memory.

             I think about elders when I think about skin. I think about the wonderful roadmap of experience and story and teaching that resides in each wrinkle and line on their faces. I think about things like pride and spirituality and cultural strength. I think about their wisdom. I think about the tremendous resource that they are, the free and open university of their experience with a tuition based on the cost of a question.

            I think about babies when I think about skin. I think about the smell of them, all soapy and clean and how warmth has a smell too when you concentrate. I think about innocence and immense possibility. When you hold a baby close to you, that’s the promise its skin holds. They bless you when you feel their skin. They are the closest beings to Creator and they give you that proximity when you hold them.

            I think about touching when I think about skin. I think about the fact that our first physical act when we’re born is reaching out – the desire to touch someone. I think how powerful that is. I think about what Creator gave us with that first instinct. Our primal instinct is to reach out, to belong, to be accepted, to be where love exists.

            So I think about unity when I think about skin. I think how important it is that we all share that first deliberate act of reaching out. We reach out in innocence, without fear or judgement, to touch another because it’s our strongest desire. How great it would be if we could remember that everyday.


About Richard Wagamese

I am a published author with 13 titles published by major Canadian publishers. I am a First Nations person from the Ojibway Nation in Northwestern, Ontario, Canada. As a professional writer since 1979 I have written for newspaper, radio television, magazines and book publishing. I love the culture of books and the people who populate it. 2012 recipient of the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for Media & Communications. View all posts by Richard Wagamese

One response to “Skin

  • Suzanne

    One’s skin os so powerful in so many ways. Holding a baby is holding a promise, a promise of a life to be lived and embraced through the journey, a journey that will see it kissed by sunshine, tasted by love, ravaged by distraction,defined by colour. Thanks for the look in the mirror!

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