I’ve grown into kind a touchy-feely type. I love hugs and to touch people as we talk if I feel they are open to it. I grew up in a family full of hugs. My expanded joy might have evolved from two places. One is from being an elementary school teacher. The rule is not to touch kids. I do it all the time. For too many that is the only loving contact they have with an adult, a touch on the shoulder or head from a teacher. Any child who asks me not to touch them, I don’t do it or at least try to remember not to. I really love the ones who run up to me and throw themselves at me, trusting my hug will keep them safe. I also need to touch these children I am so heart connected to. The other place that has opened me to allowing touch to be important instead of threatening is from the lgbt Quaker community I’ve belonged to for better than 35 years.

At first the tendency was to look around and see who would see you walking into the gay meeting, just so you could keep score of who knew. A sense of being under threat pushes people together. You cling to each other. If you want to assure your group forms a strong bond, have them persecuted.  A subculture grows around the code words and key signs of membership. The campy humor, hankies, chains, special jewelry, haircuts, the touching and hugging, the leaning towards each other. The deep need for human contact we all had could be addressed in this subculture of ours where we could touch each other. We supported each other with more than words. It seemed we were aways so close to tears, so vulnerable, so tense and often downright scared. That there were people around us whom we trusted to hug us, touch us, hold our hands, listen, confident the confusion and grief were understood and often shared kept us mostly sane. I came to understand the critical nature of touch. Even those who reject it do so out of fear, not out of any real desire to be untouched. I usually keep the offer open. Sometimes I try again. So, I touch children and I’ve grown brave about touching adults as well.

As I’ve come to appreciate the physical contact with people I start out I barely knowing, I’ve seen how it has deepened both my understanding of them and my desire to know them. Hugs and touching can be like prayers. They can be a thank you, a WOW, you’re great, or a moment of peace and grace folding over you all. I don’t hug people just a little, unless I’m not comfortable with the hug. I hug like I mean it with my whole heart. The heart in the hug speeds up healing and encourages our connections. It makes us less afraid.