February brings to mind many things in my life. There is of course, Valentine’s Day and a time to reflect on love. But I want to talk about something more primitive then love. I want to talk about the power of touch.
Several years ago, when I came down with lupus, one of the first symptoms I had was a painful sensation in all the nerve endings of my body. It started at my feet and slowly worked its way systemically up, until every part of me, from my toes to the top of my scalp felt as if it were being stuck with small needles. I was convinced that somewhere in this vast world, was a replica doll of me being held in the hand of some unfortunate soul I had wronged. My body was calling out in the darkness of night for me to listen. Its warnings were a beacon of anguish for the revolution that was about to begin. It confused me. I didn’t have a diagnosis yet and therefore was confused by its revolt. The simple act of wearing clothing was a painful endeavor worthy of any medieval torture device known to man. Kissing was out of the question, and hugging was merely a lost memory. My family didn’t quite know how to handle this. The familiar exchange of a pat on the arm brought guilt to the faces of my loved ones and only pained me more. The tiny touch of my students even became snuffed from my daily living.
As with most things we take for granted, I didn’t realize how important it was to be touched, until I no longer had it in my life. Isolated on an island that was inhabited by the world of tenderness, I was forced to watch the lives of the people I love unfold before me. I gazed upon them as if I were watching from a movie screen, no longer the participant. I learned to sit in a chair wearing lose clothing, careful to only let the furniture touch the most conservative outer edges of my shell. The simple effect of a breeze would send shock waves that would travel the length of my arms and rest at the point on which it would slide off the edge of my skin. To express my love for my family, I would touch the tip of my index finger to theirs in a primitive wordless world of communication.
Skin is the largest sensory organ the human body has. Touch is the first sensory we develop as infants it is the one that stays with us until death…long after we lose our sense of hearing, sight, and smell. “Touch” refers to four different sensory descriptions: pressure, pain, temperature, and muscle movement. It is believed that without touch, some species can die. It has a power even we don’t understand. Ancient medicine relied on The Laying of Hands in the form of healing. It is something that is still widely used today. When it was removed from my life, I felt wilted.
This new way of living made me think of the thousands of people who walk this earth without touch; the ones who live in isolation. I have always been an affectionate person…this more than anything was killing me. It was one of the worst tricks the wolf could play on me. I found myself becoming solemn and quiet. My body gestures completely changed. I subconsciously stepped back from close proximity of those around me. I no longer bent down to be eye level with my students who were young. I lived in an out of bounds world. I was hopeful that with the new meds this constant agony of sensitivity would be relieved. I was afraid it had changed me forever. Could the lack of touch, even for only a few months, be enough to alter ones personality? Then four months later I got my answer. I turned to the feel of a tiny tap on my shoulder. Looking down into the big brown eyes of a five year old she gestured for me to get closer. Bending down so as to hear her tiny voice she whispered bye Debra as she put her arms around my neck and bid me farewell at the end of her class. I hugged her back feeling the love in my heart. As I watched her leave the room, I thought, not only am I back….but I had never left.