A couple of weeks ago, I bought myself a massage. Even though many friends through the years have extolled its virtues and powers, it is not something I have done much in my life – probably no more than half a dozen times.
I don't know why I booked the hour-long session – the idea just came into my head one day – and I've lost enough weight now (20 pounds, with 20 still to go) that I don't mind (too much) being naked in someone's presence.
It was a good thing to do and although it is not something I can often afford, it was worth the expense. Except for one thing: I'm pretty sure I didn't get all the benefit I could or should have.
Certainly you will agree when I tell you that beginning 15 or 20 minutes into the massage, instead of letting go and drifting off into the calm, it took all my concentration not to weep. When you're fighting against a powerful urge to curl up into the fetal position and sob, complete relaxation isn't going to happen.
(Yes, I know tears are a normal if not everyday response to massage but I am who I am or, at least, who I was that day.)
Back at home a short while later, the feel of the masseuse's hands was still with me, particularly on my back, and then I did cry.
I wept for the exquisite pleasure of the touch of human hands. Even a stranger's. For the fulfillment of a hunger I had not known I had and the emotional release, the joy I experienced was almost too much to bear.
To touch and be touched. We have forgotten, I think, the importance, the need of every human for the touch of another.
It is well known that babies who are not held and touched do not thrive. There is a reason for such a (now old-fashioned) phrase as “healing touch” and even though touch has long been proven to reduce stress, relieve pain and fatigue, and aid the body's natural healing abilities, it is not much considered these days.
One of the terrible things about growing old is that for many of us there is little opportunity to touch and be touched. Partners become widowed, others are alone for different reasons and our modern, scientific medical practices don't much credit touch.
Plus, there are strict taboos in American culture about who may touch whom, when they may do it, where it is allowed and for how long. You don't need me to tell you that generally the mandate is “don't.”
I've been fussing around with writing this post for a week or ten days and I found a reasonable amount of information online about the physical, psychological and spiritual rewards of touch along with acknowledgment that elders moreso than other age groups are deprived of this boon:
”As tactile sensitivity decreases, the need to receive expressive touch may increase. Nature can be cruel however, and the elderly person often may have no one to provide this increased touch...
“One elderly woman put it this way, 'Sometimes I hunger to be held. But he is the one who would have held me. He is the one who would have stroked my head. Now there is no one. No comfort.'”
But I don't want to turn this subject into a research project with a whole lot of quotations. I think we all intuitively understand the need for touch and it is enough, today, to recognize that and talk about it among ourselves.
At The Elder Storytelling Place toay, Warren Lieberman: A Random Meeting