Whenever my dad and I were sitting side by side on the couch, he would, at some point, always reach over and squeeze my knee, which always made me jump and say “Jeez, don’t do that!” Why could I not see that this was his way of showing affection...which was always very difficult for him to do?
The need of human beings to touch and be touched by other human beings is probably one of the least understood but most elemental of human needs. It has been tragically documented that newborn babies not held or caressed or touched grow up severely stunted, emotionally. And while this need may lessen or be sublimated as we grow, it never goes away. Handshakes, hugs, pats on the back, playful punches to the arm, tousling of the hair, an arm around a friend standing beside you, reaching out to touch someone lightly on the arm, all are examples of how the need for physical human contact never goes away.
And toward the end of our life, the need grows even while the opportunities diminish. As loved ones and close friends slip away, so does the opportunity for physical contact. And while it is natural to make a physical fuss over children, the old without immediate family find themselves increasingly deprived of this essential need.
I don’t mean to preach, or pontificate, but this is, to me, simply the way things are, and it is one of the many things to which we should pay far more attention than we do.
Like that “food groups pyramid”, there is also something of a “touch pyramid” to categorize the importance of the different levels of touch. At the very top is the touch of a partner, someone one loves on all levels. Directly below that is the touch of parents; below that the touch of siblings, other relatives, then the touch of friends.
I’ve told this story before, I know, but when my mom was dying, she came home briefly from the hospital. That same night, she had something of a minor stroke and could not speak. Horrified and heartsick, I put her in the car and headed for the hospital. She could not speak, but she reached over and patted my hand. She was comforting me. She was comforting me! I cannot think of that simple gesture, even now, without crying.
The value of touch is in direct proportion to its sincerity. We all know the effusive “huggsies and kisses” type, and when I talk of the importance of touch, I do not include them. And I know some of us are for whatever reason basically undemonstrative, and that is fine. But when you sense a need from a relative, friend or even an acquaintance, don’t hesitate to place an unobtrusive hand on their shoulder; lay a hand gently on an arm, or do any of a number of things which involve gentle physical contact.
It is only the gestures of kindness, love, and affection not made that are later regretted. Make the gesture while you can, and appreciate those given you for what they are meant to be.
You have no idea what I would give to have my dad squeeze my knee.
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