Touch: It’s one word with myriad meanings.
There is the touch of encouragement, congratulations, compassion, the touch of bonhomie. There is the patronizing, demeaning touch that says “There,there, little one.” There is the sense of wonder touch: Can this beautiful child be really mine? There is the sensual touch, the one that sings the praises of skin. There is the sexual touch, the one that arouses. And there is the violent touch, the one that brings pain, loss of dignity, invasion and, sometimes, death.
Reading the comments of women who were offended by Joe Biden, I have to conclude that we have moved from the Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem School of Feminism to a group of Touch-Me-Not women who seem unable to differentiate between the types of touch. Like their namesake flower, these fragile women recoil, close up, when touched.
I envision them encased in a Lucite cube, protected fore, aft and sideways, from any uninvited contact. Only those who already have an intimate connection are allowed inside their inviolate private space. How sad for them that they will never know the unexpected thrill that comes from touching a stranger and feeling an attraction. How discomforting that when they fall down, they will not welcome the hand of a stranger reached out to help. They will miss so many tactile experiences in order to protect their private space.
Private space: It’s a modern, western, notion. And a luxury.
The idea of private space in crowded cities is ludicrous. Try finding it in an Egyptian market, or a street in Calcutta. But then, one doesn’t even have to go that far. In the streets of the poorest parts of our world, where families huddle together for warmth, private space is a non-starter.
The Touch-Me-Nots must live a limited life. No rides on the bus or subway in rush hour, no crowded elevators. Line-ups at the supermarket or the movie theater will surely be offensive. Being attached to one’s private space will make an urban existence very difficult. And it undoubtedly would make one unsuitable for life as a public figure, expected to mingle with strangers. How will they manage on the floor of a day care center, surrounded by four year olds? If the senior citizen in the nursing home wants to dance, will they reject him? Would they withhold a hug from a grieving mother or widow? Would they touch the hand of a veteran in a military hospital? Will they replace the handshake with a nod of the head or a formal bow?
May they never know the skin hunger that women like me, 86 years old and widowed, feel. What we wouldn’t give for a hand on our shoulder, a kiss on the back of our heads, the stroke of a hand on ours. We long for the intimacy of touch.
Joe Biden is right when he says that touch is connection. A child hugs its parent’s leg. An old couple hold hands. A mother strokes the head of a sick child. A father ruffles the hair of a son or daughter. A puppy sits on its master’s foot. Lovers hold each other in the night, confirming their vows.
We cannot live fully without human touch. Study after study has shown the therapeutic value of the hug and how the feel of the human hand can affect the ability of newborn to thrive. So, let’s clone Joe Biden. We can use more men and women who truly empathize and are not afraid to show it.
Personally, I want a president who hugs the whole country, who feels its hurts and tries to mend them, who touches us with hope, who whispers in our ears that we will get through this, a President who is connected to the real lives of the citizens he represents. I would recoil if Donald Trump touched me. If Joe Biden gives me a hug, I will give him a big hug back.