The Tao of Touch
What magic does touch create
that we crave it so. That babies
do not thrive without it. That
the nurse who cuts tough nails
and sands calluses on the elderly
tells me sometimes men weep
as she rubs lotion on their feet.
We touch each other so many
ways, in curiosity, in anger,
to command attention, to soothe,
to quiet, to rouse, to cure.
Touch is our first language
and often, our last as the breath
ebbs and a hand closes our eyes.
— Marge Piercy
from The Hunger Moon: New & Selected Poems, 1980-2010.
The first and fourth/last stanzas of Marge Piercy’s poem encapsulate for me one of the principal impulses behind the name of this blog. (There are myriad ways of touching and being touched beyond the physical, but without doubt, they all bloom from that UR-touch of the physical.) There are many images in my photo files that could illuminate her words, images of manifold human relationships. Yet when push came to shove, there was one predominant image for me of the intimacy, respect, tenderness, gentleness, sensuality, comfort, and confidence bound up in a loving touch: Rembrandt’s The Jewish Bride in the Rijksmuseum:
Beautiful, poignant words. I knew before, the importance of touch — there was even a clinic for tactile something, next to the medical clinic where I worked — but had never thought about it as much as since I started reading this blog.
The painting says it all.
So glad the painting speaks so strongly to you too, Rebekah. There are so many possible, wonderful images!
But I think this one is amazing.
…and touch works both ways — it’s not only about receiving. That, everyone knows, that has ever stroked a cat over its back. Both benefit…
The two are a single thing, cannot be separated!
I worked with hundreds of child care workers and one of those who most impressed me recounted that when a young child is upset and nothing seems to soothe her, she takes off the child’s clothes, bares her own chest, and holds the child close. This closeness almost always has a remarkable soothing effect!
It is REAL magic, in a world filled with the phony stuff.
The power of touch is amazing; and the poet expresses it so beautifully. I volunteered at a hospital for 18 months, giving hand massages to patients in the oncology and hospice wards; and I continued to be surprised at how so many different people, from so many different walks of life, responded so similarly to me – a complete stranger with a gentle, compassionate, physical touch. It was such a privilege to be able to volunteer in that capacity.
Yes, it is most definitely a great privilege —
Touch in that way is so obviously healing, it’s a mystery why it isn’t tapped more often in the medical arts.
When my youngest daughter had her baby the nurses urged the skin-to-skin contact that Claudia speaks of. It may be one of the reasons the little Bean is such a contented child. I wonder what it is in humans that, for us to thrive, requires this kind of closeness?
My family on my mother’s side is of almost pure French descent – all my aunts, uncles, and cousins were very tactile and I learned early on that touch is such a satisfactory way to communicate. I was well-hugged as a child and to this day think hugging or hand-holding a most satisfactory thing! It’s one of the best reasons to work with children as I do – I get my daily quota of hugs even though I live alone.
The picture was not what I expected… your introductory words conjured an image of mother and child in my mind so I experienced a little jolt when I saw that fellow’s hand 😉
Why do humans require this? It is surely the animal part of us, or physical, if that’s preferable. We are not disembodied intelligences but creatures of living flesh, and it’s amazing how much that’s ignored in our society.
I came from a family that did NOT touch, and it was quite a shock to enter into my husband’s family, who emphatically did. I thought it was wonderful and admirable — but it was hard for me, from a lifetime of conditioning, to respond, let alone to initiate.
When I came to choose an image, I looked first at the children and grandchildren — mother and child, brother and sister, etc.
But I realized that the Rembrandt was exactly the image that had been lurking within, and insisted on being the vehicle. If you got a jolt — that’s good!
This is a mature Rembrandt. In the painting,we see two sensitive and confident people. Notice that she is touching the hand that touches her. Beautiful.
Yes. Touch to touch. The completion.