Touch, in my opinion, was always the Rodney Dangerfield of the five senses. It “don’t get no respect.” Sight and hearing competed for the number one spot. As children, we often contemplated what if? “What if you had to choose between being blind or deaf,” a friend would ask, “which would you pick?” The other senses weren’t even in contention.
Smell, to me, is the most rudimentary of the five. Smells transport me to another place or time. The smell of approaching rain, the scent of freshly mown grass, the odor of a wet dog are reminiscent of childhood summers. Sweet peas are my grandmother. Wood smoke on a misty morning carries me to my favorite mountain inn.
Taste. Well, I’m from New Orleans. We don’t just eat food. We have a veritable love-affair with it. We discuss what we’ll have for dinner while we are still eating lunch. We reminisce about meals past. We have a food museum.
But touch, meh. Until now. Until COVID-19. Until six feet of separation.
In March, when we went into lock-down, the high number of cases in New Orleans had been blamed on Mardi Gras…the crowds, the parties, the bar-hopping. Since Edmund and I had been among those crowds, celebrating at bars, restaurants, and in the streets with friends and strangers, I felt that one us could have the virus and might infect the other. We stayed home, just the two of us with our dog, and I imposed the six foot rule in our own home. It was awkward, to say the least. I didn’t even pet Lola, the dog.
The pandemic continued its merciless spread. We saw no friends or family. I missed our children and grandchildren immensely. Even though we and everyone we knew were healthy, I lived in constant fear of the future. One night, exhausted from obsessive sanitizing and worry, I totally lost it. I started crying and couldn’t stop. Edmund reached out to hug me. “No, we can’t,” I sobbed as I drew back. “Yes, we can,” he replied, and we did. He held me tightly and rubbed my back as I put my head on his shoulder and cried.
After several minutes, I calmed down. The world around us was still in chaos. The virus continued to spread. We were still separated from all that was normal to our lives. But, a loving shoulder to cry on and familiar arms to hold me had made all the difference. Touch had changed me. Touch had healed me.
The insidious aspect of this disease is how it prevents us from touching each other and therefore, helping each other heal emotionally and possibly physically. I miss touching my grandchildren’s hair. I miss sleep-overs with bedtime kisses and morning snuggles. I miss hello and good-bye hugs from my family and close friends, or even a simple pat on the back, high-five, or fist bump.
I’m one of the lucky ones. We still have our health, a home to live in, and good, home-cooked food to eat. I’ve long since given up my silly no-touching rule at home, which pleases Edmund, Lola, and me. Touch is no longer the outlier of the five senses, no longer the underdog. It is the most important one to me right now. Everyone could use a lot more of it.