Friday, January 30, 2009

How Touching

Yesterday on the drive home, I caught an old Peter Gabriel interview. He talked about the impetus for writing his song I Have The Touch (one of my favorite PG tunes). He said he had noticed that in some countries people constantly touch each other when they talk; in other countries they don't touch at all. I happen to be the latter country and it somewhat vexes me. Although I'm a very affectionate person... I love to cuddle, love to be touched and to touch... I don't. (I'm talking in strictly platonic terms here - the sex talk was yesterday's post.) I'm not a touchy-feely person, at least not without it first being initiated by the person I'm with. I'm not one of those who will place my hand on the arm of the person I'm talking to. While I will hug in greeting, I hold back on any other contact. Though I love it when others will make a move to do any of the above, I don't initiate.

It bothers me because I'm all for showing the world a little love, all about letting the people I care about know that I care. I think a lot of us either don't have that natural (or learned) ability to reach out and touch, or else we've buried it. I know part of it for me is that, growing up, my family was never a touchy-feely one, so that kind of contact wasn't a learned one. For so many of us though, I think the ability to touch has become lost in the politically correct / sexual harassment / I-need-space / bad touch scenario. We've walled ourselves off from each other. We're afraid of giving and receiving one of the most basic human needs - the need to be touched. We'll talk about all our deepest feelings, but we fear the intimacy that comes with physical contact. In an attempt at protection, we've had to teach our children to keep their hands to themselves and to expect the same of others. How sad. How terribly and tragically sad.

I remember during a trip to Hungary, my cousin Marianna and I were out walking. Seemingly as natural as the act of walking itself, Marianna grabbed my arm and looped it through hers as we talked. It was utterly endearing, but I was stunned. No one in the states would ever think of doing that! Two girls walking down the street in such a fashion here would beget all manner of looks and rude comments (or at the very least, suppositions). But at the time, a time in my life when I still felt completely unlovable, it was as if Marianna was saying to me, "You matter." Her gesture made me feel as though I belonged.

About two years ago, not long after John's doctors conceded that he was losing the war with cancer, we were lying in bed together. I knew he was in all kinds of pain, so I tried to stay still and give him space. I thought he was sleeping, but I suddenly heard him sob as he asked, "Would you please just touch me? I'm lost." I immediately started sobbing with him as I managed, "Oh Honey..." and wrapped him in an embrace much the way one would embrace a traumatized child. When we had both calmed a little, I explained my reserve to him - that I was trying not to bother him in any way. He said, "How 'bout I tell you when I don't want to be touched? I feel untethered enough without feeling like I'm drifting away from you." Thereafter I made it a point to touch him in any way I could, every chance I got. We both needed that.

We all need that in our lives. Everyday. What tethers us if not the people we love, the people who love us, the people we reach out to and who reach out to us? Let's re-initialize touch. I'm going to start making the effort until it becomes natural for me. So, don't be surprised if next time you're sitting across the table talking to me, I reach out and put my hand on your arm. Don't be surprised if I hug you in the middle of our visit for no good reason. It's a cold, hard world... we could all use a bit o' warmth, huh?

Peter Gabriel, I Have The Touch


  1. I love this pic of two best buddies hand in hand. This is one I cherish dearly. I love your post sis! What a awesome post. I miss my big brother a lot. I miss you a lot also. ILY :))

  2. Loved your post today Sabi...and I guess I have been doing it right all these years...I am a huggy type of person, although I didn't grow up in a family that did alot of hugging...all my girls were taught at a very young age that hugs and touching matter, and now they are grown women, their husbands (even though foreign to them at first)give hugs just like all of us do..without being embarassed, because it has become second nature to them. Sometimes words will be forgotten, but, a hug or a touch is a heart telling another heart that you are important, cared about, and loved.


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