I have an image in mind as I parade out these gifts for each day of December. Described beautifully by D.H. Lawrence in The Plumed Serpent, it is that ritual wherein the devout remove the icons and statuary from inside the Catholic Church, bedeck them with flowers, and hoist them onto portable platforms so that they can move about the throngs of people and allow them to worship, touch and reverence these symbols of their blessings. So here is the thirteenth symbol of a holy experience – we write it ‘touch’.
It occurs to me that taste involves a certain amount of touch. Foods caress your lips and taste buds. That involves direct contact with substance, as opposed to sight, hearing and smell which seem more indirect. Touch is all about that direct contact with substance, and it can happen anywhere on your body. Fingertips are often the first touch sensors that come to mind. They are sensitive and yet resilient. They detect temperature, pressure, texture, shape and probably a million other bits of data. The temperature sensors are interesting. I remember an exhibit station at the Exploratorium in San Francisco that alleged that you could not tell the difference between intense cold and intense heat by touch. It sounds like nonsense, but here’s how they proved it: two metal coils were intertwined evenly. One coil was extremely cold. The other was vaguely warm. When you touched them individually, that was evident. When you touched them together, you immediately drew your hand away because it felt like it was burning hot! Apparently your brain combines the intensity message with the heat message and warns you right away to back off. Of course, I wanted to test how long I could endure the sensation, knowing that I wasn’t being burned.
My sister and my daughter are both certified massage therapists. I think they are perfectly suited to this profession. They are caring, intuitive, kinetic, and highly skilled. They are also whip smart at math and able to comprehend systems and memorize terminology. You probably don’t think about that as you enter a spa, and maybe you have stereotypes of “massage parlors” somewhere in your consciousness. That’s the mystery of the grace of touch. It transcends all that scientific knowledge and meets you on a very intimate level. “How’s this pressure?” they ask you, and you only need to respond by relaying your comfort. “I don’t know what you’re doing or why, I just know that it feels good.” And I’ve also learned that it feels good to them, too, in a different way. They get in touch with their own bodies, how they perceive what’s going on beneath the skin, how they balance their own weight against you, how they move down a long muscle or manipulate fascia. It’s very rewarding work. It’s also tiring. Schedule a massage, enjoy the experience, and tip your masseuse well! If you live in San Francisco or DeKalb, I have one to recommend.
Intimacy. Touch is a wonderful conveyance of feeling and thought. It may take a while to trust it for many of us. It’s sad that in our society it is often manipulative, dishonest and damaging. The touch of someone I truly trust can instantly change my mood. When I was in labor for the first time and about to deliver, I was approaching a very intense experience of the unknown. I knew that I would have to surrender my control in order to get through it, but I was scared. Jim was very interested in all that was going on down at the doctors’ end, the episiotomy, the vacuum forceps, the bells & whistles. I felt a bit abandoned by my “coach” until he came close to my face and laid the back of his hand on my cheek. I relaxed completely in that instant, and Susan was born. I will always remember that touch. When I stand at the sink washing dishes, I love it when Steve comes up behind me and kisses the back of my neck. It sends a shiver through me every time. To be in contact with someone I love gives all my labors meaning. My body doesn’t live in a vacuum; I am interconnected with everything in the universe. I like to be reminded of that.
With all the holiday greetings being sent around the world this month, it’s nice to know that people “reach out”. It would be my hope that we also get the chance to really touch. I’d take a hug above a twitter every time. And I miss having a cat to stroke, big time. I admire animals for the way that they instruct us humans in some basic lessons in touching when we are often too uptight to understand what they know instinctively. For all the cuddles that they elicit from us reluctant brain-heavy types, I am in awe. Especially from men who are often not permitted to indulge in touching. I love seeing my son being physical and affectionate with the dog and cat he lives with. It reminds me of when he was young enough to have stuffed animals. He had quite a collection, and he enjoyed their softness openly, frequently nuzzling into a huge plush dog named Buster. Today, he is interviewing for a job at a kennel. I think it would be great for him to have an opportunity to spread that gift of loving touch to some lonesome boarders.
I am grateful for the ability to feel the universe around me in so many different ways, externally and internally. Thanks be!