At this time of the year, most of us are humming “And so this is Christmas, and what have you done…”, or nostalgically singing to “Last Christmas I gave you my heart but the very next day you gave it away (you bastard/bitch!)”. As for me, I’ve been having the song by Samantha Fox, “Touch me”, blasting in my mind, and no, a great ’80s night at the club Reflex in East London has nothing to do it with it.
Yes, I think that touching and caressing a partner is quite underestimated, and maybe one day I’ll write about what I call Skintherapy. And yes, I think that we should all touch ourselves more to learn about our incredible mechanisms and wonders. This time, however, I am approaching the TOUCHING issue from another perspective.
I volunteer monthly in care homes with Magic Me, an inter-generational Art Charity that, among other activities, aims at tackling isolation amongst care home residents by hosting monthly evening cocktail parties (pretty hardcore ones, if you ask me 😉 at care homes in London. We volunteers simply have to sit down with the elderly, having a drink and talking with them.
And, possibly, touching them.
Now, though I am a strong believer that even dirty old men need love, let me explain you what I mean before you jump to wrong conclusions.
In preparation to this volunteering, we were given a short introduction to dementia and how to talk to people who are affected by it, given that unfortunately many residents may have it. Before the December cocktail party, however, Magic Me organised a meeting to make us understand the importance of TOUCHING AND BEING TOUCHED. As we all know, December is a month when people can feel more lonely and abandoned, where the social vacuum around you can feel heavier to bear. To people with dementia, for whom words become strange enemies and obstacles, the warmth provided by a simple touch can be even greater.
A few months ago I read an article on this new urban “illness” affecting mostly single women in their late 30s-40s (we’ve got all the luck in this world!) derived by the lack of contact. I remember the details very vaguely, but the gist was easy to understand: consider how many occasions a mum with children, or a woman in a relationship, has to be touched and touch other people daily, and compare it now with the life of a single person who at maximum can give two kisses on a friend’s cheeks to say hello. Of course, of course, touching is a very sensitive and personal issue, but I simply mean that even among friends there is not much touching going on. And yet, at the Magic Me training, they taught us how there are at least 24 different kinds of touch. 24!
Unfortunately, the elderly in care homes mostly experience procedural touch, or a diagnostic one. It is methodical, quick, professional. It is not a touch that heals, that comforts, that reassures, that provides warmth. The worst part for me was hearing that the staff is actually instructed NOT to touch the residents, more or less for the same reasons for which teachers are instructed NOT to touch children.
Italians, in general, are more touching (and touchy!) than English people, but I think that beyond cultural differences, this modern life and its social conventions have made us lose sight of how much a simple hand contact can give. Holding hands, resting our hand on someone’s shoulders, caressing someone’s face… these are all balms from a lovely soul to a lonely one. We all know that a touch can arrive where words can’t.
A few months ago I was hugging a friend tightly, caressing her head, crying with her. There was nothing to say, no words could make sense of the situation she was living, and faced with the total uselessness of uttering a single one, comforting her with my touch was the only thing that I could do.
Similarly, have you ever noticed how we all tend to pass our hands on our face when we are having a problem?
That’s it, then. This Christmas, hug your friends, pat your dog, hold children, kiss your granny, caress your grandfather’s wrinkled hand when he’s talking with you, even when, nay, ESPECIALLY when, he’s not making much sense. And again, ruffle your father’s hair, jokingly poke your mum’s belly to point out she’s been eating too much, hug tight that friend you haven’t seen for ages…
This Christmas, may you all touch and be touched more. Also, stay in TOUCH. Keep in TOUCH.
It’s so easy to leave me
All alone with the memory
Of my days in the sun
If you touch me
You’ll understand what happiness is
Look, a new day has begun
(Memories, from the musical Cats)
PS: On “If you touch me/You’ll understand what happiness is”…. I smile and wish you all a Merry Christmas!
PS2: Would a punch in the mouth qualify as a form of touch?
PS3: If you want to learn more about Magic Me, here’s the link: http://www.nesta.org.uk/news/new-radicals-2014/magic-me