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So … touching

There I was. At dinner with a group of friends. Chatting with someone about the importance of touch in my line of work. And to my surprise, he recounted observing how touch-oriented I am. I confess that it was to my delight that he seemed happy about said observation, and that I’ve been thinking earnestly about the importance of touch in my life ever since.

I did not grow up in a physically affectionate family. I always knew that my parents loved me dearly. But they manifested this love in acts of service, vocal praise and unlimited learning opportunities and experiences. I don’t even recall any of my early childhood friends being very physical with their parents, except one. And since her mother was Hungarian, divorced, and a stewardess, I just thought it was part and parcel of their exotic life.

And then there was my next door neighbor Trish. Trish was a couple of years older than me, and my protector, as I was the youngest in our not entirely cohesive block coterie. Trish was my protector. Unless, that is, she took it into her head to tickle me. I was pathologically ticklish back then, and it didn’t take much tickling to reduce me to helpless tears. Good natured tickling. But I learned to be especially fast when she got a certain look in her eye.

It was with not a little surprise that I entered junior high school and was initiated into the requirement of hugging between friends. All my friend hugged like mad. At first I thought it was very strange … hugging hello at the start of the day, hugging when meeting in the hallways, hugging when parting in the hallways, and hugging at the end of the day. It all took up so much time, that I’m not quite sure how we never got excessive tardy marks. But I soon learned to love it. And started hugging all of my good friends, even as they exited the school bus. The extra time expended for people to hug me before exiting the bus (good thing I sat toward the rear of the bus) may have slightly irritated the driver, but Mr. Peoples was very cool and understanding, and let me work through my hugging issues until I had narrowed it down to just my extra-close friends by the end of the 3rd year.

In high school, I was able to go to Italy during my junior year for a brief exchange program with a high school in Rome. We spent a couple of days in Venice, and a few days in Florence before we arrived in Rome and were put in the care of our host students and families. We were all so excited and nervous. But the Italian kids seemed so cool and friendly and happy to meet us, that we hid our initial discomfort when they kissed us … once on each cheek. And then they kissed each other (even the boys), and we departed to the various homes, where there was much more kissing. Again, it seemed so peculiar. Not just to me, but to all the other American students, regardless of how much physical affection they received at home. But it seemed like such a joyous Italian tradition, that we all just threw ourselves into it. By the end of the week, we were kissing more people than even the most fertile mind could have imagined back at our American high school. And, when I came home, I brought the love of Italian physicality with me. No, I didn’t kiss and hug my parents all the time, but I introduced it, and the traditiona has grown gracefully in my second generation asian home.

In college, I was introduced to the wonderfulness of a good back rub. It took a lot of effort, but with the calming effects of hot tubbing, and good friends close at hand, I was able to quell most of my ticklishness and just revel in strong hands that could ease the stubborn knots that formed in my shoulders.

After college, healing touch became especially important. I was very ill for a period of two years. And I remember the touch of my father’s hands during the many pleading blessings for healing he offered on my behalf, even if I can’t remember the exact words he uttered. I also remember my mother performing accupressure along my back, along with soothing caresses to help me deal with the pain that seemed my constant companion.

As I recovered from that challenging part of my life, I started my career in nursing, specializing in pediatric critical care. And I was amazed at how the slightest touch of a loving parent’s hand could soothe when sometimes the drugs could not. And I became aware of how my touch was able to help heal and comfort, both physical and emotional pain. It is not always possible, bu I try to do as much of my care without the barrier of gloves. And to this day, one of the most thrilling sensations is to have an infant or toddler touch my hand in trust.

In the movie Crash (which I really loved), Don Cheadle’s character recites this really cheesy set of lines, “It’s the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We’re always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.” I can even remembering inadvertantly giggling because it sounded so simplistic. And yet, when I was recently in Boston (just prior to the Exponent II Retreat), I can recall wandering around the city, walking and being on the T, being surrounded by people. And I commented to Jana about how many attractive men there were in Boston. But as I reflected, I understood that it wasn’t that Bostonite are more attractive, they’re we were just physically closer.

As a single adult woman in the church, opportunities for touch sometimes seem few and far between, as have been previously blogged by more articulate fingers than mine. For what it’s worth, I add myself to the crowd. There are times that I just hunger to touch and be touched. Not always in a sexual way, although I sometimes crave that too. But just to feel the warmth of another person’s hand intersecting with mine.

As an adult, I’ve incorporated more touch into my life. I get Thai massages on occassion. I enjoy all varieties of partnered dance. I love wrestling with my nephews. I’ve helped my family become more physically affectionate. And I try to make contact with people in ways that are appropriate and warm, especially after reading the last section of the chapter on touch in Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses. She discusses the beneficial effects of subliminal touch. Those who were unobtrusively touched were more likely to give higher rates of satisfaction, bigger tips, and even return money that they’d pocketed from a telephone booth.

And so, I wonder about how touch affects women. Is touch an important part of how we relate to other people? What are our favorite touch moments? Do we feel more comfortable touching others, or more comfortable being touched. Do we feel comfortable with the level of physicality in our lives? Or do we want more? And if we want more, do we feel comfortable asking for it?

Dora

Dora is a pediatric critical care nurse. Therapy to alleviate the stress in her professional life include traveling around the world, reading, partner dancing and hosting dinner parties.

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  1. Jonette says:

    Wow! I loved this article. So articulate. I have been a massage therapist for 6 years. I have enjoyed the deep connection that comes from sharing the gift of Positive Touch. I love seeing the 96 year old man respond with deep satifaction while being massaged. I love holding and being with women as they pass through difficult times in their lives. I love experiencing positive touch within my family. I believe that as we touch with intention we have no limits to our ability to hold and to heal a person. This article really spoke to me. Thank you so much Dora!

  2. mark IV says:

    Dora,

    When I am in the mood for shallow novels, I enjoy reading Elmore Leonard. He wrote a novel entitled Touch which deals with a guy who works in a detox center where alcoholics go when they have hit rock bottom. I find the descriptions very moving when he goes into the rooms of people who are having DTs and nightmares and calms them by touching their arms or putting his arms around them. Another novel, called Bandit, depicts a woman who works with lepers. A man is attracted to her by her charitable nature, but can’t get over the way she isn’t afraid to have contact with people who have the disease. When he tells her how surprised he is that she treats lepers just like anybody else and touches them, she replies “That’s what you do with people, Jack. You touch them.”

    I made a visit to a member of our ward who was living out the last few weeks of her life in a rest home. When I arived, the RS president was already there, kneeling by the woman’s bedside, caressing her face and arms. It was inspiring. When our Savior washed the disciples’ feet, I think he was doing more than just cleaning their skin.

  3. Heather O. says:

    What a great post. And it’s true what you wrote about children and babies–nothing is more satisfying than having a fussy child calm under your touch. Thanks so much for a beautiful read.

  4. Deborah says:

    I *knew* you were a good candidate for a shoulder-rub on the retreat . . . 🙂 Love this.

  5. Caroline says:

    Thanks for taking us through this journey of touch in your life.

    I grew up with a very huggy touchy mom, so I tend to be that way with my family, but not like that with friends.

    These days I sometimes think I’m getting too much touch from my baby. A day without him tugging on me and wanting to be picked up sounds kind of nice.

  6. Kricki says:

    What a lovely post! Dora- you were my massage partner during the talent show at the retreat! I haven’t read the blog for a little while- but I’m so glad I stopped by the site. This post was so inspiring. Thanks.

  7. jana says:

    It’s interesting to me how my relationship to touch has changed over the years.

    I didn’t grow up in a huggy-huggy family although I did hug my parents with some frequency. I first came to know the power of touch during my cancer treatments. My primary nurse was a masseuse and she gave me special massages. It was a time when most of the touch in my life resulted in pain, so her hands were truly healing. The best was a bald scalp massage. You haven’t really lived until you’ve had one of those!

    During my dating years I became much more touchy-feely and I’ve been that way through my married years and with my kids (even though, as young teens, they aren’t as interested anymore). But I’m not very touchy with my friends anymore. I think I like holding them at arms length, literally. I’ve wondered why this is and I have no answers, really.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I once watched a scientific TV-show, where they had set up a little IQ-test for women. Half of them had gotten a massage from their partners/friends/girlfriends/husbands before the test, the other half had not.
    The result: relaxed women performed much better than the other ones.

    And a personal note: I am never more physically – and therefore often also mentally – at peace as I am while or after I get a soft massage for my back.

    And a last funny sidenote: When I went to school (seventh, eight grade), my girlfriend and I used to stroke our arms – until I got the feeling of doing something strange and sadly stopped it, because I really liked the sensation of this touch.

    CW

  9. ldahospud says:

    I was thinking about this idea just this morning, as I was pondering the question of why we have to do specific touching in the temple–what makes it necessary to perform ordinances while embodies? What is more powerful about the laying on of hands and oil vs. a fervent prayer for someone? Why can’t I (and/or the person for whom I am proxy) just be shown signs and tokens rather than “receive” them? We may not all hug when we greet each other, but the grasp of a handshake signals goodwill more than just a smile.

    I remember as a teenager in a foster home trying to figure out how I could get hugged by someone, anyone–hugging wasn’t a common thing in my JH or HS, at least with my set of friends. And now, when I work in my children’s classrooms, I love how eagerly their classmates run to hug me when they see me–perhaps it is the only hug they get that day. I think physical touch is as necessary as nutritious food–junk food will keep you alive, but the good stuff will nourish and renew you.

  10. Dora says:

    Thanks to everyone for sharing your thoughts on touch!

    Deborah ~ I am ALWAYS a good candidate for a shoulder rub. Thanks for sharing your inestimable talents with me … twice!

    Kricki ~ Glad to have you by. My favorite two moments during the X2 retreat were 1) the chocolatier sharing her talents, and 2) the massage therapist having us pair up and teaching us how to do a shoudler massage. These two moments really touched me (ha!) because they involved the sisters interacting with each other.

    Jana ~ I have half-baked plans to go to Thailand in a couple of years and take some intensive massage classes, with the idea that I can incorporate it into my nursing practice. I also wonder if your touch needs have just changed due to the evolving nature of your family life.

    Idahospud ~ I haven’t done initiatories for a long time, but I remember it as the best part of the day I received my endowments. I’ve heard that the ceremony has been changed to reduce the amount of touch. Does anyone have current info on this, or been through an initiatory ceremony lately?

    I also appreciate your likening of food and positive touch as nourishing. And I’m glad that the children in those classes have you to show them love.

  11. Proud Mama Blogga says:

    I agree whole-heartedly with this post. To me, touch is a connection between people; it’s a reminder that we’re all in this life together. I have to say that sometimes my favorite touches are the subtle ones, a hand on my back or holding hands.

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