The Touch

A while back I attended a funeral of a young man who had taken his own life and was struck by how important the use of touch is at such extreme moments.

As people left the church the queue stretched in a long and virtually silent line to meet the parents and family of the deceased.
Everyone sought to clasp hands with the bereaved and many chose to hug them too.

Very few words were exchanged - words often are trite, inadequate and hollow -sounding on these occasions.

The horror of how terror impacts on our lives and its opposite, love,  is shown up in words that involve the sense of touch : 
the phrase "terror strike" compared to "loving embrace " keenly contrast the two polar natures of human capability.
Terror really does try and tear at the very fabric and essence of our our life.

One of the reasons why the events of 9/11 are so difficult for the human mind to process when we are voyeurs of such horror may be because we try to ask ourselves even if unconsciously, what must it have "felt like " for the victims in the immediacy of it all ? 

Maybe that is why so many people who recall watching the events on TV state that they could not stop themselves from replaying the visual events in the days afterwards and why for some ten years on, there is a compulsive need to revisit the scenes, no matter how awful they were. 

The  "raw footage" demands a visceral response.

A timely piece on touch below, from the blind Helen Keller, was in my inbox today from Inward/Outward .
The Touch

Helen Keller

The hands of those I meet are dumbly eloquent to me. The touch of some hands is an impertinence. I have met people so empty of joy that when I clasped their frosty fingertips, it seemed as if I were shaking hands with a northeast storm. 

Others there are whose hands have sunbeams in them, so that their grasp warms my heart. 
It may be only the clinging touch of a child's hand; but there is as much potential for sunshine in it for me as there is in a loving glance for others.

Source: The Story of My Life quoted in In the Stillness Is the Dancing by Mark Link SJ

These beautiful sculptures are all by Sassona Norton from here

Above, a pair of 8' bronze hands holding a twisted steel I-beam salvaged from the North Tower of the World Trade Centre installed at County Court House Plaza, Norristown, Pennsylvania.

Into The Wind

Though touch is not in itself an emotion, its sensory elements induce those feelings we describe as emotions. 

As Helen Keller says above different nuances of emotion felt through touch are easy to discriminate, even if we are not blind.

A mourner among a field of hands
representing the lives of the innocent lost in the Iraq war.

I came across this article by Judy Rigby, a massage practitioner who has compiled some meaningful explanations on the importance of touch : 

"A comforting hand on the shoulder of someone who is distressed produces a very different emotional reaction to an apprehending touch on the shoulder of an opponent.

The touch of someone's hand, the closeness of an embrace, and the connection of personal contact signify caring and comforting.

Feelings of security, safety, and easiness are amplified.

Touching builds closeness, fosters communication, and nurtures intimacy.

Touching gives a person sense of being cared about and cared for.

Being touched or held makes a person psychologically feel worthy and physically feel soothed.

Touch establishes a relationship with that which lies outside our own periphery. It tells us we're not alone. As infants, it’s primarily through touch that we explore and make sense of world; the loving touch of our carers is essential to growth. 

The cuddling and stroking received in infancy helps build a healthy self image and nurtures the feeling of being accepted and loved. 

Psychologists have demonstrated that our perception of how much and how we are touched relates to how we value ourselves, it’s the essential nourishment for self-esteem. 

Patients with highly contagious conditions who are nursed in isolation and denied skin contact find this experience even more distressing than the symptoms of the condition. "Solitary confinement" is ultimate punishment. 

Touch is much more than a physical interaction. It has to do with the acknowledgement of our shared humanness and mutual recognition of the inherent vulnerability and intense wish for contact that is present in each of us."

The official tenth anniversary commemoration ceremony held on 9/11 will only be open to the family members of victims, as it has been for the last nine years. 
Amongst the numerous events occurring this week for New Yorkers and people from all over the country and all over the world to honour the memories of those who perished in the attack this one caught my eye:

It is a simple yet powerful symbol of unity to be held on September 11, 2011: an event called "Hand in Hand" where thousands will grasp hands to form a human chain along Lower Manhattan's west side waterfront. Their website is here

The Hands Across Lower Manhattan event will be all-inclusive and is meant to symbolize the unity that the world witnessed after the towers fell. and hope in part to create a chain of goodwill that will stretch far and wide from Battery Park where it will all begins.
The topic on touch is vast and it got me thinking of a post I did a while back, where my friend Pete (aka Black Pete) commented on how we are touch starved today.

Judy Rigby again, talks wisely about the stigma of touch.

"Many societies in the modern West are "touch-starved" We actively discourage the kind of affection that is expressed naturally in other cultures. It's socially unacceptable to touch. There is an unwritten rule that says the less you know someone further away you must be. Think about being on a train. When another passenger gets on, the last place they will choose to sit is next to an occupied seat. Only when there is no other option, will they actually sit next to someone else.
All too often, when we hear about touch, it is in the context of pornography, abuse and violence. We go out of way to ignore or deny the need for caring touch, and because our bodies remain imprinted with that basic need, we live with the consequences: reduced well being, fear, depression, insecurity, abusiveness, mental illnesses. The high levels of publicity given to sexual abuse over recent years have been a great deterrent for healthy touching. 

We're afraid of touching because our actions might be misinterpreted - hence children are deprived of appropriate touch at very early age. 

Our response has been analogous to that of the person who having eaten some bad food, decides that the best course of action in the future is not to eat at all, rather than ensuring that what is eaten is healthy.

So too it is with touch. There's the rotten variety, which will make us ill, but there's also the nourishing, wholesome kind, which is the staff of life itself.

Please, let's not allow the existence of harmful touch to lead us to deprivation."
Sometimes in the face of all the awful events and happenings in the world any effort seems feeble but on Sunday and long after I pray :

"May we reach out and touch somebody's hand, and make this world a better place."
and in that  touch may we each become a sign of God’s forgiveness and reconciliation, in whatever part of the world where we live. 

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