I read a beautiful and potentially scary post and thought you should read it with me. Here it is. Then, let’s talk.
I really love this post, even though there are pieces of it that feel a little problematic. It was written by an artist and poet, who navigates the world a little differently than many. What I’d like to consider, though, is about our fear of physical contact.
I think Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor’s fantastic radio program poking fun at our northern European characteristics addresses this well. We have a reserved and stoic nature of being in the world. I think this a generalization of North American immigrant communities like mine that is true. But it has never felt “natural” to me in many ways.
Mostly I am fairly guarded about myself, my initial encounters with others, careful to not be too much for others, to preserver their “personal bubble”.In addition to my jumble of northern European blood, this likely stems from my childhood experience as a big-emotion, highly sensitive, creative child – and my desire to fit in a rural farming family and community. There wasn’t a lot of tolerance of differences.
I was never “small”. I fell in love with my girl and guy friends, wandered those Palouse hills singing with arms holding up the sky, wrote love songs to Jesus, and held the hands of some people largely ignored by “my people”. It was intrinsic.
As an adult now, it is easy to see that it was deeply tied to the alcoholism in my family which put up pretty maleable walls to authentic experience. Love and affection was expressed most freely in my family when someone was drinking, which made for a few years of therapy, just sayin. Physical touch and expressions of love can be an imposition. It can make people uncomfortable.
But in many cultures, personal space is more porous. I have a friend from South America who had been here for a few months and then eventually asked, “what is this… personal space?” Does not translate. My personal experiences in other cultures such as these support this…
- Sitting in a family restaurant in Palestine with a friend watching 6 men friends in conversation – greeting with kisses, leaning on each other’s shoulders, touching, drinking beer, laughing – so grounded in their bodies.
- Women in church in South Africa. dancing, swaying, holding each other, raising hands, singing (and I mean really singing), laughing, moving those hips — beautiful!
- Holding hands with a Philippino friend whose greeting was always with a hug that felt like what God would be as a woman: big love coming in that generous warm body!
- Getting ready to go to retire for the evening at a friend’s home with a big warm kiss.
So when the author talks about laying around on each other like kittens, that might be a bit excessive, but it makes the point. Why is all touch in our culture about sex? If we normalized warmer physical encounters, every touch wouldn’t become a slippery slope into the horizontal hoochie koochie. We put far too much pressure on touch in North America. Maybe we’re in our heads too much.
Touch heals us. It grounds us in our bodies. It breaks down barriers. It is central to being alive. And yes, we don’t assume others are the same, but maybe we can relax just a little. The most important part is that we are intentionally present with each other.
There is a video that is hot on Facebook right now about a photographer who brings random strangers together to photograph as if they were close. The best part? After people posed, acted like they were close, touched, etc., they felt warmth and closeness to that person. Touch was an act of peacemaking.
What do you think?