Comforting Words: Reach Out and Touch

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Reach Out and Touch

By the time I got to the third account of how Canadians love boundaries and detest being touched by anyone outside of their immediate circle – and even there only few are permitted – I knew I was in trouble.

Coming as I do from a culture where touching and warm greetings are the norm, in panic I wondered how many people have I insulted in the almost three years that we migrated to Canada. Greeting someone is a special moment for me, a moment which communicates in a much shorter time that a television commercial, the anticipation I have for the interaction.

My hope is always that in everyone I meet, both of us will leave the encounter blessed in some way. Therefore, maybe in anticipation of that blessing I tend to wrap the person standing in front of me with all the tenderness and hope that I have to share.

What then shall we do in a culture and society that prefers to keep “others” at a distance? Reach Out and Touch, as the song says, with me through the Words from Scripture, Words of Comfort and Words from the Heart.


From Judeo-Christianity (NRSV):
Luke 18: 15

“People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. . . .”

Mark 5: 30

“. . . Who touched my clothes?”


A regular contributor to the Edmonton Journal had an interesting story about the anxiety that Canadians, for the most part, have about being touched. He referred to the individualism that continues to grow in the Canadian society, which, among other things, has caused people to create invisible walls around themselves.

These walls form a protective barrier, which many feel necessary to keep safe the property and ‘stuff’ that they have accumulated. It however has a secondary effect – they keep people out of their personal space to the extent that the emotional bonds that marked Canadian communities are fading.

Another writer, Christopher Levan, in his book Give Us This Day, which offers daily reflections for Lent, notes interestingly enough that Anglo-Canadians do not like to kiss. This is very unlike the French-Canadians who he writes, “cast caution to the wind and do a double kiss twice in any serious encounter.”

“Canadians,” he says, “are not mushy feely types” and therefore do not make it onto, what he calls, the touch scale. This is compounded by the “no touching” policy of the corporate world, one which in my experience, thankfully has not sterilized the people in tropical climes.

None of this is to minimize the need people have to create boundaries and the abuse many have suffered at the hands, pun intended, of those who do not recognize that there is a time and place for everything. Many a stories I could share of encounters in my beautiful tropics which went well beyond the touch to the feel. Sadly, when this does happen, there is little recourse for the person, usually a woman, who has been touched just a little too much.

The problem, as I see it, is how do we strike a balance, between respecting people’s personal space and office decorum, for example, and maintaining a warm place where people encounter and touch each other.

The Christian gospels of Luke and Mark illustrate the power of the touch in two encounters Jesus had – with a woman and children. Ironically, in our society and culture the encounter between man and woman and/or children has become so suspect that we have lost the magic that these stories tell.

In Luke’s gospel, people were bringing their children to this much-talked about man, to have him touch them. They felt that one touch from his hand would eternally bless their children. They seemed to understand the significance of a touch far greater and at a much deeper level than his own disciples who tried to turn them away.

The woman in Mark’s gospel did the reverse. Hemorrhaging for twelve years, she too heard the ‘news’ about this ‘healer’ man and made her way through the crowds to touch him. “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well,” she said.

Whether we believe any of these stories to be factual is not the point. The power of touch is what is common in both stories. I witnessed an outpouring of love for the late Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, Lois Hole, upon her death this year. Sadly, I did not have the pleasure to meet or see this woman in person, but many are the stories I have heard before her passing and since about her touch.

My partner, who is someone who has never displayed any awe for politicians, told one such story that I particularly love. Apparently, there was this huge function in downtown Edmonton, at either City Hall, the Francis Winspear Centre for Music or the Shaw Conference Center and Lois Hole, in her capacity of Lieutenant Governor attended.

The event ended and well after the time that one would expect the ‘dignitaries’ to have taken their leave one of her aide-de-camp could be seen searching for her. Whether it took him long to figure out where she was I was not told. However, he ‘found’ her in the kitchen, hugging the staff.

This story is not uncommon, as I have heard of many similar ones since her Lois Hole’s passing. Most of the people, public figures (across the country) and private individuals, including those of ‘lowly’ means and children, remembering Lois Hole spoke of her hugs, her touch and how she shared from her table.

This has caused me to wonder about the earlier observations about Canadians. The outpouring one witnessed about this woman surrounded her humanity – her capacity to share her love through her hugs. That hardly suggests to me a people who are community of untouchables.

Three years and many hugs and full handshakes later, no one has yet filed a lawsuit against me. Somewhere deep in my heart I feel that will not happen. Why am I now so confident given my initial panic? Well, as I recall these stories about the Lieutenant Governor, what occurred to me is that people of modern societies are not so insular. The problem is that not many of us are like Lois Hole, respectful enough, caring enough and courageous enough to “Reach out and touch.”

May her soul rest in peace.


Reach Out And Touch (Somebody's Hand)

Performed by: Diana Ross

Reach out and touch
Somebody's hand
Make this world a better place
If you can
Reach out and touch
Somebody's hand
Make this world a better place
If you can

(Just try)
Take a little time out of your busy day
To give encouragement
To someone who's lost the way
(Just try)
Or would I be talking to a stone
If I asked you
To share a problem that's not your own
We can change things if we start giving
Why don't you.

Blessings, until next week.


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