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In time of separation, reach out to others

Reach out and touch Someone

COVID’s devastation has invaded all our lives. Whether you have had it or not, living with the pandemic’s rules has changed everything … for everybody. Our very survival, family economics, and future well-being are all in jeopardy. Our smiles are masked and our everyday pleasantries are almost gone. Back in the ’80s, AT&T told us to “Reach out and touch someone,” but Doc Fauci says we have to stay six feet apart.

Until COVID separated us, we had become a nation of more touchy-feely people than our parents and grandparents. Now, that we need to maintain our social distance, we are using our cell phones and Zoom to connect with each other, but it’s not the same.

Growing up in proper Boston, I was reared with the respectful arms-length greeting; I learned early on to shake hands. When I was a girl, many adults to whom I offered my hand were surprised, but that extended hand was noticed, and often remembered.

When I taught in the business program at Alfred State College, I schooled all my students in the art of the handshake, as both a career tool and personal nicety. In my fourth year, one young woman returned to campus and told me it had changed her life. (I was thrilled.) She had successfully interviewed to be the executive assistant to a Pentagon admiral. Months later, during a discussion with her boss, she asked him why he had hired her. “You walked straight towards me, shook my hand and looked me in the eye. I knew right then you were perfect for my office.” I honestly don’t think that bumping elbows with the Naval brass would have had the same effect.

I hate not being able to shake hands. Now retired, I don’t have as much need for that tradition. But the awkwardness, almost the embarrassment, of elbow tapping does not convey the same message as the handshake: self-confidence, business savvy, good manners.

And if I miss the handshake, I could cry over the loss of hugging, especially now, when we need it the most. Yes, we have become a nation of huggers. I now welcome most hugs, especially when it is the greeting of family and good friends. If I love you, I want to hug you. I really miss that. Spreading my arms and flapping my hands to signal the hug doesn’t come close to what I want – warmth, touch, genuine caring.

When my late husband died, I missed hugging him. When you have your arms around each other you snuggle in his neck, smell his aftershave, maybe even dance a little.

In his last days, as I talked to him, I didn’t think he could hear me, though I hugged and touched him as much as possible. The human touch, which was my last connection with Tom, is our caring connection with each other. Don’t we all need a caress now and then, or better yet, as often as possible?

My mother, who died at 98, widowed for over 30 years, always looked forward to my touch. When I visited her assisted-living apartment, big hugs were our arrival and departure ritual. I’d rub in her hand cream when her arthritic fingers were having a bad day. She loved body lotion, which I worked into her back and legs with long, slow strokes. Whether a back rub lasted ten minutes or twenty, she always craved “just a little more.” She forgot that her arthritic legacy extended to my hands, but sometimes the tender workout helped my fingers too.

I feel so badly for everyone living alone with limited human interaction. And quarantined nursing home patients have to be downright needy of human touch at this point.

With masks required they can’t see anyone’s smile. For staff, the demands of the pandemic are so overwhelming, I wonder if it leaves time for backrubs or a simple hand-hold. It’s taking its toll on everyone.

There has been media speculation that we will never return to hugs and handshakes. My response to that is, “Watch me.”

I can’t wait until summer or, God help us, autumn, after we’ve all been safely vaccinated. I’m hoping to remove my mask, smile, and bear-hug my family, my friends.

I’m going to reach out and touch someone and they’re going to know they’ve been hugged. In the meantime, maybe I’ll just wink.

Marcy O’Brien lives in Warren with her husband, Richard, and Finian, their bi-polar Maine Coon cat. Marcy can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com

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