What do we mean when we say let’s keep in touch? Why do we talk about being out of touch? What do we mean when we say we were touched by an act of kindness or an expression of sympathy?
I reflected on the word touch as my plane touched ground, my grandson made a touchdown in his school football game, my neighbor told her little girl not to touch the toaster.
There are so many ways in which the word touch is part of our everyday vocabulary. I wanted to touch base to find some thread to connect all these various uses of the word touch. And there it was it all refers to some kind of connection, some form of contact.
Even in utero we are connected with another human being. The first experience we have in life is being touched by another person. Our first exposure to love and pleasure is being held and stroked. Some baby animals die if the mother fails to lick and stroke them. Human babies do not thrive or even survive if they are not touched and held.
Toddlers, taking their first steps in exploring the world, run back to their caretakers to refuel, to touch and be touched. Young lovers spend countless hours touching and caressing each other. All the love songs of every generation say hold me, take me in your arms.
In any modern society, many circumstances require that we keep our distance — don’t touch! If strangers brush up against us, even accidentally, we feel frightened. At work, especially in the era of sexual harassment fears, we often act detached, restrained. For most of us, the only opportunity we have to touch and be touched is with our lovers, our mates, our children and their children and even in those situations boundaries exist. Many isolated older people have no opportunity for closeness, for connection, but the hunger for it persists.
Sometimes this hunger finds an outlet in a love affair with a pet, who in turn enjoys the fondling and warm response. Sometimes caring for an invalid or someone else’s children helps. Perhaps the popularity of spas is another way contact hunger is met — with massage, manicuring, shampoos — someone focused on your physical self. In a way, cell phones keep us in touch — technology’s way to help us connect.
So keep in touch seems to mean I need to feel connected, I need to touch base with you, perhaps not in the way it used to be in that lost paradise of our earliest connection. It seems we never outgrow our need to touch and be touched.