Have you ever seen a mountain range from above? While traveling by airplane, or from an aerial video or picture? From a higher vantage point, you can see the texture of something. A mountain range, gargantuan and rearing from sea level, becomes almost doll-sized from sky level. The dips of each slope and jagged edges where the heights taper toward the ground seem almost…touchable.
This mountain-touching invaded my thoughts last night, in lieu of paying strict attention to a Francis Chan video on the book of Mark (whoops!). While not quite an avid hiker, I do partake in the great outdoors via rocky, tree-laden heights from time to time, but on these hikes it has not entered my mind to reach out and sample the feeling of the stones and trees and shrubbery through which I passed. But somehow, the sight of a mountain far off nearly set my hands to twitching. And as thought follows thought, I wondered how often we purposefully touch? As hands are important, there are plenty of items we come into contact with during each day. Doorknobs, keys, clothes, dishes, food. But how often do we register these sensations? And even more important than mere items – how often do we purposefully touch other people? In the cold-climate culture of New England, personal space is regarded with respect. To enter into another person’s ‘space’ without invitation is to court displeasure at best, and may give the appearance of harassment at worst. Family members or friends may hug, professional hands may be shaken, but it seems that as we get older, outside of spouses or our children or grandchildren, out of our senses, touch is used with intentionality the least of these. Why?
As a kid, I remember the admonition before entering stores: Look, but don’t touch. As an adult, it is my personal opinion that this warning should be, if not done away with entirely, then at least moderated. As a child, I needed to touch everything! Fluffy things, soft things, scratchy things – although I decided quickly that velvet was not deserving of my attention. Yes, there are two eyes for seeing, yes, there are two ears for hearing. But come on, people. We have TEN FREAKING FINGERS! Children in particular are acutely aware of how much touching can be done with these digits. We learn about our world through touch, and kids get this. (Perhaps we lose this knowledge somewhere in the netherworld of teenagery?) On my first trip to Rwanda, I kept my hair tied back most of the time. But one day I let all the bigness loose, and every time I knelt or sat down near a group of kids (which was basically anywhere in sight), every child within reach wanted to feel the curls. No personal space for me then! But I loved it. How they needed to touch, how they needed to be touched – hugs and high fives and just holding hands. And I realized that I needed that too.
I heard about a study done on newborns, that if left in their cribs without being held, their tiny systems don’t get the stimulation through human touch that they need. Babies can die because of this lack of touch. If touch has this large of a nurturing impact, then as adults I think we are unwittingly starving ourselves. Perhaps we should be more purposeful with touch.