I don’t spend a lot of time looking through magazines (except Smithsonian) and catalogs, but yesterday I got a catalog from a place called Touch of Class and the picture on the front wooed me inside. Lots of beautiful things, but nothing I couldn’t live without — except maybe for this one piece of sculptured resin that I fell in love with. Finished in bronze tone, it’s two hands reaching to touch each other.
My gosh! My reaction to the piece was almost palpable on many levels, physical, emotional, mental…
Touch. We live in a world where people are scared to death to touch anyone. This is most especially true for adults with children. I taught kindergarten for several years at a Christian school, and even THERE we were cautioned not to be physical with the kids. I found myself wondering a lot how this very young generation is going to grow up with such a lack of contact with others. Will they be able to connect physically (beyond sexual expriences) with other people, or will they be cocooned in a world of touch deprivation? Human connection isn’t a perk for any of us, it’s essential to our mental, emotional, and — I would say — physical well being.
I read a book a long time ago by Thomas A Kane titled The Healing Touch of Affirmation. It affected me deeply. Kane, as well as Lord knows how many health care professionals recognize the need for people to be affirmed in their lives if they’re going to thrive. It changed the way I interact with people. As I went out of my way to give genuine affirmations to folks I know and those I just pass in the night (store clerks, waitresses, etc.), I saw how kind words can turn an exceptionally bad day into something much more positive.
(Watch out if you’re a soldier in your fatigues! I will consider it my patriotic duty to try to make you feel special. And since we live right next to an air force base, I get lots of opportunities. It’s safe to say they’re usually dumb founded when you thank them for their service.)
My daughter and I tested this in the Washington D.C. area where she swears all store employees everywhere are ornery. We went shopping. And to her surprise, I didn’t find even ONE annoyed or irritated employee. But then I went out of my way to ask them about their day or compliment them on what they were wearing (but only if that were true). It was a challenge I quite enjoyed.
Now you might wonder what this has to do with that sculpture up there. well, I found that healing touch of affirmation had a strange affect on people. They would lean toward you as if you’d drawn them into your world. I wondered if they were wanting something more. And sure enough, there were those who gave you back a hug or a hand on the shoulder almost as if in payment for taking the time to notice them in some way.
The interesting thing was I also noticed how those hugs and that openness began to affect me. I’m not a hugger/toucher by nature. I tend to be shy and uncomfortable with that kind of physical contact. (Though I can say after being at a Methodist church for ten years, I’m getting better at it! Huggy bunch in this congregation.) But here I was thinking I was “giving” them something when all the time I was also receiving a gift in return.
When I was a kid, one of the things from the Bible that used to upset me a great deal was hearing stories about lepers; about how they were unclean and people not only couldn’t touch them, but had to walk on the other side of the street if they saw them coming. As a child, that broke my heart. And falling in love with the movie Ben Hur certainly drummed it into my head how those people must have felt.
That’s when I realized I felt a little bit like that myself. We’ve always been a family that could verbalize our love for one another, but as the kids have gotten older we’ve become less and less the touchy feely kind of family. Nor was I particularly aware of how the lack physical affirmation affected us all, made us feel a little alienated from each other — till I started going out of my way to hug the kids. It didn’t take me long to figure out that somehow that physical contact — even if it were just a squeeze on the shoulder or a ruffling of the hair — made me AND them feel less alone in the world. It’s kind of cool when you’re walking down the street with your grown daughter and she slips one hand into yours as she pushes the baby stroller with the other.
(There’s a guy at church who stands about 6’3″ who reminds me very much of Chewbaca from Star Wars with his long hair and beard, and he is FOREVER mussing my hair like that in greeting. I wouldn’t suggest you try THAT with anyone, especially on Sunday morning like John does. Makes me want to slug him not hug him!)
So I guess that’s why I had such a visceral reaction to the piece in the catalog. I’ve learned how important it is to feel more connected in this life. I’m learning (slowly) to do that for others, and I’m learning (even more slowly) how to receive that for myself. Will I buy the piece from the catalog? No. That’s $44 of discretionary money I don’t have. But I will cut the picture out and paste it in my scrapbook.
But do me a favor, will ya? And do yourself a favor, too. Go hug someone today! Right now. Even if you’re at work reading this. Or a LOT of someones! I guarantee it will make you feel happier and a lot more grounded on this planet.