Just A Little of that Human Touch

 Buenos Aires Subterráne
When it comes to naming the five senses there is one I always forget. There's sight, smell, hearing, taste and .... oh yah, touch.  This is fitting because on a daily basis I swoon over the afternoon light on a building, feel transported at the Jo Malone perfume counter, listen to the same song on repeat, and eat past the point of 'full'.  But I'm not a touchy person.

It's not that I wasn't held enough as a child, or that my demeanor teeters on icy.  I have always struggled with staples like the 'understanding arm pat' or the 'congratulatory slap on the back'. And don't even get me started on hugging; I can never figure out where to put my arms (or how many arms to use) - do I put my head on their shoulder? do I squeeze? how long is an appropriate length?

It's not a lack of empathy, but it's something about the physicality of those sentiments; the way they require one to act instantly. I'm a person who finds comfort in my ability to talk my way out of anything.  The benefit of having a quick mind is that, by the time that zingy one liner comes out of my mouth, I've already rehearsed two other witticisms, and an alternate word order. Although it happens, I do everything in my power to avoid the awkward silence of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

But you can't do that with touch. Because, like the gnawing in our gut, or the warming of a heart, it's not calculated. We even use the same word to describe the internal instincts as the external embrace: we call it feeling. From fight-or-flight to love at first sight, feeling is the very opposite of the rational and careful.

Next time you're on the bus take a look around at the extreme amount of effort we exert not to touch each other.People smash up against windows, suck in and straighten up in standing room only, all to keep themselves safe in the encasing that goes well beyond our body.  Each of us are a real live bubble boy.
As babies we are constantly cradled, the most basic human need (to be fed) requires touch on many levels.We are picked up to be comforted, to be played with. But, at a certain age it stops. As adults we would go years with out being touched if it weren't for the romantic kind. We pay big money at massage parlors, not just for the lavender oil and relaxing flute music, but for the luxury, warmth, and comfort of skin to skin contact.
This is a challenge to myself, and to you. To use all your senses : to listen to that feeling we get inside. To show someone, with more than just our words, when we are moved by a coworker's loss or a friend's gain. Lay a hand over a hand to say "I'm sorry", or squeeze a shoulder when you are grateful to be in good company.

It is so easy to feel alone in this world. Each of us are living out our desolation surrounded by people doing the same, in heartbreaking irony.  It is touch that bridges the gap of our singular existence, a reminder at both ends that we are all just souls and skin.

[ (title) from Bruce Springsteen's song Human Touch. (allusion) "living out our desolation" is taken from Milan Kundera, via No. 27. A blog by my friend Amanda, who actually inspired this whole piece. (photo) Buenos Aires' Subterráne ]


  1. that was a phenomenal post. loved it.

  2. "squeeze a shoulder when you are grateful to be in good company."


    my new year's resolution is to let people know how much i appreciate that they put up with me as a friend, and what a wonderful way to do it.

  3. Christy Touch, because it's wordless, makes things like that easier!

  4. such a wonderful post.

    i am absolutely like you. i'm SO not a hugger. but in recent years i've been trying to get better at it. one of my co-workers is totally a hugger....but not in an obnoxious way...like today i was sad and she gave me a hug and it was lovely, so i was feeling totally inspired to be better with touch and then you wrote this :). so perfect!

  5. Sam. I LOVED this post. You should develope it and get it published. It is phenomenal! The other night this doorman or promoter or someone that my roommate new at the club we were at came up to her and kissed her on both cheeks, very casually, then did the same to me, catching me completely off guard...but I liked it! But I HATE group hugs. So awkward!

  6. this is a brilliant, thoughtful and lovely post! With my close friends and family, I am a hugger. I do not have a quick wit, and I take time to craft my words, meaning that for me, often a touch or a hug can help to say all I am thinking but have not yet figured out how to convey. That being said, with strangers and new people, I am completely different! Perhaps it's the introvert in me, or the shyness, but in group or social situations, I am always exerting that energy you mention NOT to touch people.

    1. Erin, being able to do that with people I'm close to is something I'm trying to develop within myself. I want to be able to use tenderness to say the things that words fail at! Thanks for sharing your insight.


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