Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Power of Touch

Recently I have seen a number of video "clips" of service personnel returning from Afghanistan and especially Iraq.  God bless them, and their families.

What I notice is that the first reaction is not to talk, not to get a good hard look, but to embrace, touch, caress. 

Skype is wonderful; we can see who we are talking to on the other side of the planet. I know it has been an encouragement to millions, especially those who have been and are fighting in the Middle East.   I attended a Skype baby shower this summer.  The couple was in San Diego, where they live.  The husband, a chaplain, will soon be deployed for ten months.  He will be able to see his baby girl frequently.

But Skype is not presence.  Presence is validated by touch; touch is only possible in one's presence. Touch is the realest of the senses, followed by taste.  You can smell without physical contact, you can also see and hear, but only within inches of each other can you feel and touch and know the reality.   No wonder the first reaction after long separation is to touch, to hold.  It doesn't matter if the person has gained or lost weight or grown gray--they are physically real.  We have all read about the babies in the orphanage who died due to lack of touch, and how that is still going on in the developing world.  Touch is life, more than we recognize.  I often tell my communication students that touch separates the cultures more than anything, and to be prepared in another culture and wary about touching or not touching based on Western standards, or even southern standards (we are a tad touchier than Yankees, but not much--it's mostly the grandmas). 

Unfortunately, we associate physical contact too much with sexuality, and that ruins it too often.  Yet, with some validity, touch is controversial; we are touchy about touch.  Where, when, who, how.  Don't go below the shoulder blades; don't hold the handshake too long. 

There is one reason I respected Princess Diana.  She had no fear of touching those HIV babies in Africa.  No wonder people loved her.  It is the one way she was like Jesus, who in an age of taboos and rituals, especially about Gentiles and lepers and other "uncleans," he touched freely.  I often touch a person on the shoulder; I might be risking something, but it's worth it.  They may just think I am a little more human.

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