Touch. A gentle art.
Those little serendipitous moments.
Encounters we weren’t expecting that brought more to us than we realized at the time.
Reflecting back, realizing how deeply we had been touched by touch, we wish perhaps that we had been more present, more aware at the time.
Scratching that itch: Lessons from our dog.
Many things I learned from my dog - about being human, about making connection, about inhabiting a body, relishing life, delighting in simple pleasures.
Our dog, Sport, (so named by the dog pound), could never get enough touching.
I don’t recall an occasion where my arm outlasted her desire for being petted or scratched.
Whenever I stopped she always pushed back for more.
It seemed to be a simple rule: One could never get too much touching.
If only I had a brush: excursions in a psychiatric hospital
A routine visit to a psychiatric ward in the hospital I will not soon forget.
A young woman with schizophrenia. She lay curled up on the plastic covered mattress in the corner of a stark, bare room. A security guard sat outside the door to ensure she did not escape or harm herself. (Why wouldn’t the female guard sit inside, for goodness sake. Maybe even chat a little!).
Her pretty face and and flowing long brown hair was in stark contrast to how destitute was her situation, how devoid of personalization and human comforts. How was this austerity intended to help her get better?
I tried to engage in conversation but she just curled up tighter. What could I do to make contact, to help humanize her environment? I kept staring at her hair. The thought came, “ if only I had a brush.” But I didn’t.
In any event it would be unprofessional. We don’t believe in touch in the medical world. We believe in pills. Touch or human contact of most sorts is messy, sentimental and scientifically suspect. We don’t touch our students or clients or patients without fear of lawsuits and accusations of professional or sexual misconduct. At very least, we risk the exchange of dreaded germs.
Close encounters at the liquor store.
One afternoon coming our of our local inner-city liquor store (an environment as divergent as imaginable from the sterilized, sanitized medical model of a sanitorium), I was confronted by one of the street people who frequent this hub. Female, long black hair, not quite as dishevelled or street warn as the others, somewhat younger and more attractive.
“I think you need something,” she said in slightly slurred speech, “I am going to give it to you.”
Images raced to mind, none of them appealing.
I stood still in the doorway, apprehensive.
“You need a hug,” she said and then enthusiastically threw her arms around me.
My trepidation melted into the hospitality of her full-bodied embrace.
Moments later, when she let go, she said, “You will never forget this gift.” She turned and walked away.
I paused to assess what had just happened. Checked my wine bag. Checked my wallet. Everything OK. Seems like I was genuinely gifted.
That was five years ago. Still haven’t forgotten.
Sealing the deal.
Let’s get real.
If I really wanted to write about intimate touch, it would not be about scratching the dog or a random hug outside a liquor store or even dancing tango. I would be revealing some bedroom secrets of my wife Patricia, and I.
But I won’t. Those will remain what they are, secrets.
But one story comes to mind which fits into this theme of a little touch goes a long way. The first time my wife, Patricia, and I touched.
Consider the set-up.
We had never met. We were introduced by someone who neither of us knew.
Patricia was on the other side of the continent, 3,000 miles away, at a conference when she bumped into someone from her home-town.
Over the course of their conversation, her new acquaintance shared a brochure that she had brought with her about a workshop she thought might interest Patricia. It was hosted by me (whom neither of them knew). Nonetheless, Patricia followed up when she got back to Alberta.
We arranged a little rendezvous to discuss my work. It was intended to be a simple sharing over coffee but the conversation quickly went in directions neither of us had intended. When we went up to the counter to order, I placed my hand innocently on her small of her back to pull her into line.
That sealed the deal. We melded together from that moment on.
Some things you can’t screw up.
If Sport was still with us, I would really test to see if I could out-scratch her itch, and not complain about her shedding hair. And if I ever saw that woman at the liquor store (I looked for her in vain) I would more readily express my appreciation. Or maybe, next time I do my visitations at the hospital I will think of bringing some personalizing touch, like a card or a comb.
But that first brush-up with my sweetie? Nailed it!