Roy Exum: We’re Out Of ‘Touch’

Wednesday, August 5, 2020 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I’ve been a “people person” for all of my life and not until this past weekend did I become aware I have been suffering badly due to “lack of touch.” A lifelong friend passed along a Daily Devotional where a gifted pastor in Massachusetts mourned the fact that – get this – she had been touched by another human being only four times in the last four months. As I paused to dwell on such a thing, it made me want to cry because the human condition begs to be touched, be it an equally encouraging pat on the shoulder or a slap on the rump with the admonishment, “Stay in the game!”

I’m a very outgoing type of guy. I ask total strangers, “You getting along alright?” in the grocery store aisle.

When I call the doctor’s office to make an appointment, I’ll always give my name over the phone before I add in the same breath, “I hope you’re doing good today …” Trust me, kindness is undefeated and everybody - faceless and unseen over the telephone - really seems to like it. Oh, and it works! The front desk folks wherever I go act like they are glad to see me. Really!

COVID masks have totally eliminated our smiles. I’m good at watching people’s eyes smile but, my goodness, haven’t you been stunned at the way all of us masked zombies give the somewhat foreboding hint not to even make eye contact. This is awful. What makes me thrive and blossom is the day to day interactions I love with other people. I hate that our smiles don’t show anymore.

I was given the most profound and the most telling example last week at my Walgreen’s drug store. I noticed a young black woman who was walking out as I entered the store. Her walk was unsteady, thus her crippled gait that forced her to lean forward as she made her way. Due to her bent posture and the obvious, that she was unsteady, her face mask fell off. “Whoa! I’m lower than you are, so let me get that,” I said as I rolled my wheelchair to where I easily retrieved the mask. And then it happened.

Since she was not wearing it, I was deeply touched by her reaction I could see on her face. She added a soft “thank you so much” but her radiance was so pure, sincere, I wanted to follow her out to say, “No … thank you! You just made my day! You are an amazing and wonderful person …" So help me, every time I go into Walgreen’s I look for her to tell her she gave me a gift of riches more than silver and gold … and get this, the whole interchange lasted no more than 10 seconds.

We all need that a lot right now, as this devotion written by Vicki Kemper, a pastor of First Congregational, United Church of Christ, of Amherst, Massachusetts, will attest:

* * *

THE POWER OF TOUCH, by Vicki Kemper

Note: This devotion appeared on Aug. 1, 2020, in the Stillspeaking Devotional book of the United Church of Christ.)

- - -

“But Jesus came and touched them. "Get up," he said. "Don't be afraid." When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.” – Matthew 17:7-8

Touch was central to Jesus’ ministry. By my count, the Gospels include 10 references to Jesus touching – tongues, eyes, hands, the stretcher carrying a widow’s dead son, and, on the night he was betrayed, the feet of his disciples and the ear of a soldier one of his disciples tried to cut off.

There are some 15 references to people touching Jesus. In Luke 16, “the whole crowd wanted to touch Jesus, because power was going out from him and he was healing everyone.” In Luke 24, the risen Christ invites his friends to touch him, wounds and all.

Human touch has the capacity to heal and empower. Consensual touch connects us to one another, helps us feel safe and cherished, and activates biochemicals that make us healthier and happier.

But the pandemic has limited our touching opportunities. Casual handshakes and fist bumps are out. Heart-swelling hugs are hard to come by. The tactile passing of the peace may be history.

I live alone (with my sweet rescue pup) and have been touched just four times in four months – by people doing their jobs. As a way of loving and protecting others, I have not touched anyone.

“Skin hunger” is a real thing, and in these days of lockdown and distancing, many of us have it. So, until there is a vaccine, let’s find other ways to touch one another – with all the love and care of the God who reaches out to us in enfleshed presence.

MY PRAYER: Like the desperate woman who knew she would be healed if only she could touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, may I never stop reaching for You.

* * *

-- Oxytocin connects us to other people; oxytocin makes us feel what other people feel. And it’s easy to cause people’s brains to release oxytocin. Let me show you. Come here. Give me a hug. -- Paul Zak

-- Vision is a very complex phenomenon, with only a small percentage (less than five percent) of the process occurring in the eyes. The other 95 percent of vision takes place in the brain from association with touch, hearing and proprioception…Touch is the major contributor to full understanding of vision. – Carla Hannaford

-- If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others. -- Anne Morrow Lindbergh

-- Sometimes I think you want me to touch you. How can I when you build a great wall around you? -- Tori Amos

-- Our legacy is really the lives we touch, altering someone's plan, if even for a moment. – Carrie Hamilton

-- Touch has a memory. -- John Keats

-- Everybody needs a hug. It changes your metabolism. -- Leo Buscaglia

-- To touch the soul of another human being is to walk on holy ground. -- Stephen R. Covey

-- I've learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. -- Maya Angelou

-- Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. -- Leo Buscaglia

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