the gift of touch

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I have been mulling over the sense of touch for a couple of weeks now–trying to figure out a short story character of mine, someone who has not had human touch in weeks. I’ve been thinking about this essential need for human connection, and the essential human need for physical touch, in great silence. Not on purpose really, but because the whole topic of touch rarely comes up.

I mean, people talk about smell and taste over the course of something as common as a meal (“That smells good! That tastes good!”). The same goes with hearing (“Great music!” or “Do you hear that?”) But touch? It doesn’t really come up…especially the deep human desire to BE touched. Yes, that includes being touched emotionally…but I’m talking about physical touch: a hug, a squeeze on the shoulder, a playful push, or even a pat on the butt.

This desire to be touched–it makes one feel vulnerable to admit to it. It crosses boundaries of propriety to ask to be touched (nevermind the misunderstanding such a request can cause!).

Like I said, I was thinking over all of this silently, when Wildguppy wrote about touch too, today. And now I feel a liberty to write about it here.

Those of who are lucky, are touched everyday. We wake up next to someone, our legs and/or arms intertwined. We easily brush our elbows against each other. We have someone to hug goodbye each morning. We lean against someone while on the sofa, watching television.

I mean, even if my husband is out of town, I have little doggies that snuggle up against me every chance they can get.

But there are people who go days, or weeks or months, without being touched. A widower who has suddenly lost his wife. Or in the example Wildguppy wrote about, a homeless person.

Or even those of us, used to being touched, can find ourselves in a place without touch.

I went to Hedgebrook not too long ago, which I found to be an altering experience–I was taken out of my normal daily setting and transplanted into an otherworldly kingdom, one fraught with peaceful ponds, nibbling rabbits, the rare but incredible view of Mount Rainier, a forest so beautiful I will never forget and way too many banana slugs. I lived in a cottage in the woods, along with 5 other women in their cottages, equally sequestered away in solitary, for the purpose of writing.

Despite the myth of writing colonies as a great place of unending creativity and visits by the Muse…I encountered writer’s block. And I became endlessly lonely, nevermind frustrated. I felt myself withdrawing from the world.

A little over halfway through my visit, I went for a massage–I decided to pamper myself. The minute the masseuse put her healing hand on my shoulder, I just about burst into tears. How long had it been since I was touched? I had not realized.

It had been too long. I was surprised by the sensation of touch again, and I was surprised at way touch was such a core part of my wellbeing.

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5 Comments

Filed under Life, Writing

5 responses to “the gift of touch

  1. shatteredglass

    Yes yes, the nature of touch is something that I have been interested in for quite some time as well. It is something so easily overlooked and equally powerful.

    I read once about a study conducted of patients whose doctors touched them in a comforting manor while explaining about their upcoming surgery/ results of surgery. Something akin to 70% of patients whose doctors placed their hand on the patients shoulder or hand recovered better faster than those whose doctors did not.

    The healing power of touch, and the effects of it in general, is something that intrigued me enough to want to become a masseuse.

  2. Lee

    We as a society have become the “untouchables”. Probably at no other time in human existance has a nation been more detached from each other than now. We have made a taboo of nearly everything involving human touch because we think that if someone touches us or we touch them, it might be viewed as a perversion.

    Human touch is as much a need for attachment as breathing is to living. I think many folks are “out of touch” with themselves and others partly because they lack human contact.

    I have much to say about this subject, but if haven’t seen this video, do so as it is very “touching”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vr3x_RRJdd4

  3. It’s interesting how touch can heal or harm. For those dealing with physical abuse, I sometimes wonder if touch can ever become healing again. It’s definitely an issue for me. Like you said, there are various forms of touch. I find it sad that in this country, many girls and boys are made to feel guilty if they grow up masturbating. As if touch is something they aren’t supposed to want or allow someone else to do, which then causes problems such as teen pregnancy, disease, sexual abuse, etc.

    I’m glad you’re writing about this. You’ve got me thinking about it now.

  4. Have you ever read Ashley Montagu’s book Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin? It is a brilliant and incredibly important book about the importance of touch. As a bonus, it is quite readable too.

  5. Tea

    I found this so moving–almost to tears moving.

    I spent five years in Japan, a country of almost no touch, not even handshakes. In my second year there I was going home to my apartment, after a visit to my homestay family, and the mother of the family hugged me. She did it awkwardly, laughing at the same time (often a sign of discomfort in Japan) and I realized that she had probably never hugged anyone who wasn’t her child in her entire life, possibly not even her husband.

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