This little embodiment of love is a Havanese puppy who lives in my building, and I am happy to be a regular recipient of his affectionate hellos. We greet each other by trading touchpoints (nose to nose, paw to hand, hand to belly) in an ever-expanding, upward spiral of mutual delight.
Our Recent Experience
Desi and I shared an elevator ride to the lobby last week with one of his humans, and we continued down the sidewalk together. As we walked and talked, I was warned that Desi would need to stop at a neighboring building. I assumed the doorman would come out with a treat – but no, this was not about food.
As we got to the glass door of the building, Desi stood on his back legs with his front paws on the door, intently looking inside. Then they saw each other. The doorman got a huge smile and came out to say hello. Desi was beside himself to see his friend – pawing, and nuzzling, and shaking from head to tail. And then he was ready to move on.
Reflecting on Touch
So what is it about touch that makes it so special – human to human, animal to animal, human to animal?
“Touch comes before sight, before speech. It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth.” ― Margaret Atwood
This is such an interesting thought. Touch takes us back to our earliest memories of safety and love. It resonates in a way that words alone cannot.
I’m sure I must have enjoyed those touches as an infant, but they were sorely lacking in my family from childhood and beyond. It was through my dog that I was able to freely give and receive this connection during those years. It’s no wonder I am so deeply drawn to dogs to this very day.
Human touch in the form of hugging became a part of my life with my friends, starting in college. The need to reach out and touch has become a big part of who I am.
I was once told that I hug from the heart, and that is true. I take a moment to feel that connection and share it. Also from the heart is a touch on the wrist or a handshake with one hand gently covering the hand I am shaking.
There are people for whom any touch is a violation of their personal space. I once saw someone recoil in anger when a person touched his shoulder as they inched past his chair. An unwanted touch is never welcome, no matter the intent.
A Pleasantly Surprising Experience of Touch
Last year I interacted with a series of doctors across multiple specializations to rule out scary potential diagnoses. Fortunately, all was negative, but the fear that surfaced when meeting each doctor was challenging.
Two doctors in particular stood out for their willingness to express their humanity. One gently touched my forearm as we spoke. The other gave my shoulder a light squeeze as she walked by. With both, I felt a heart-to-heart connection that was warm and thoughtful. I eased into an understanding that I was in safe and capable hands, and the fear dissolved.
I question what has prompted this change in physician behavior. For decades, doctors were taught to exhibit a dispassionate, distant demeanor which was considered to be professional.
Both these doctors are women and both are practicing within the same NYC hospital system. It's impossible to know if either of these factors contributed to their less formal way of interacting with me, but I hope it's indicative of a new trend.
I believe there are figurative touches in addition to those that are literal.
I once wrote that a delicious, intentionally honoring conversation is like a warm hug on a cold night. It envelops us in a cocoon of positivity which provides an experience that is deeper than the moment – one that can be felt physically.
That is something well worth sharing.