In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Simply the Best.”
NASA is building a new Voyager spacecraft that will carry the best of modern human culture. What belongs onboard?
I recently visited my Nana, she is 89 and Alzheimer’s has taken away her ability to string words together, so although she was chatting and laughing it was hard to make sense of the syllables that she was putting together into what sounded like speech, but wasn’t. I don’t think she even intends meaning now but if she does, sadly it is lost. After a while of trying to make conversation I felt at a loss as to what to say. We were looking each other in the eye and smiling but it was like trying to chat to someone who doesn’t speak the same language. Then it occurred to me, I have some hand cream in my bag, why not give her a gentle hand massage. She seemed happy to let me, holding out her hand and smiling. I realised that we didn’t need language to connect, we have always felt comfortable in each others presence, she taught me a lot when I was little, baking, growing and arranging flowers and painting. We have shared some hilarious moments and some sad times. We don’t need to speak to communicate, through the power of touch I can tell her I’m still here, and she’s still my Nana.
As people get older the amount of physical contact they receive is drastically reduced. With the loss of a partner the daily hugs and hand holding is suddenly removed and sadly it is not considered correct behaviour for carers to hug their elderly patients. It seems that the meaning behind physical contact is often blurred or misunderstood. We hug our children many times a day, pat them on the head, stroke their hair to calm them, rub their hurts better. But when we become adults it often seems that the only reason for physical contact is for sexual purposes and because that can be the only time an adult experiences physical contact with another, that is the connection they make: touch = taboo, awkward, embarrassing, sexual, wrong. Obviously I’m not advocating anything inappropriate but I think the majority of humans can be trusted to know and understand boundaries and what is and isn’t acceptable. Also I think our instincts tell us who we can trust and who we can’t. The power of touch between humans does not have to be sexual, we shake hands when we meet; now its a formal greeting but some say it was originally to show we hold no weapon, maybe even before that we still had the ability to sense someone’s intentions through their touch? When we see someone upset it is often instinct to reach out and touch their arm or give their hand a squeeze in comfort. When we are hurt we automatically rub it better; without thinking we somehow know that touch will heal. I remember watching my oldest son Harrison, then 2 years old, approach his crying baby brother and quietly and gently place his hand on the baby’s chest. Harrison just knew that to feel a gentle reassuring touch would calm and comfort the babe and Charlie drifted happily to sleep with his brothers touch to assure him. The skin to skin contact between a baby and it’s parents is so important, not only in bonding but for survival as well. Infants need the comfort of contact but it also regulates their temperature. I remember being astounded when I learnt that I could regulate my baby’s temperature simply by holding them skin to skin. An adult human body can bring down a fever or warm a dangerously cold baby quickly just by being in physical contact. Now I look back at the nights when my children were ill with high fevers and I stayed awake all night just holding them, with wonder and gratitude that I was able to do that. (back then I was deliriously tired and unable to fully appreciate the miracle!).
It’s no wonder we enjoy experiences like having our hair shampooed at the hair salon or going for a massage, we feel better for having someone touch us with good intention, to help, reassure or pamper us. It seems that in this day of modern technology you don’t even need to have met someone to communicate with them on a very personal level; we pour our hearts out and relay our daily comings and goings to strangers on social media yet we still need touch. To physically be with other people is rejuvenating, we need to look into other peoples eyes as we laugh and cry with them, we need to be able to hug them, stroke their hair, give their arm a reassuring squeeze, wipe away tears, hold hands, high five. I believe that we instinctively know that touch can make us feel better. Touch can, in a way, heal; in many ways can heal. I am discovering more and more through my journey of learning massage and Reiki that to be trusted by someone enough for them to let down their barriers and let you touch them is an honour. And to have the ability to make someone feel relaxed, comforted and even feel better though my touch is a gift that I will never take for granted.
There is a lot of research about the effects and benefits of touch but I’m not going into all that here, the information is out there and easy to find if anyone wants to read more about it. I’m sure that if Nasa was to send information to space to tell other beings about the best of modern human culture they would find some of the best minds to give them the most up to date research, put far more eloquently than I am here. But I think it’s so innate, such an inbuilt part of being human that we don’t need a scientist to tell us humans how it works. I think what I’m trying to say is that I have taken a moment to consider modern human culture and although we have developed many amazing things and can do incredible things, still the power of human touch is pretty miraculous and should not be overlooked.