Apparently, I love touching people.
I know: That doesn't sound so good, right?
I have never considered myself a very affectionate person, but now that the common rule of law is DO NOT TOUCH anyone or anything, I realize this is really, really hard to do. I like the moments of physical contact and miss the days when touching others was more acceptable. When a handshake was a gesture of politeness and way to say (and mean) 'It's nice to meet you.' I miss the days of lending a hand to a stranger who needs an extra one, or holding the door open for the person behind me without wondering "Would they rather I quickly release the door so as not to spread potential germs?" It all happened so quickly and I never in a million years thought the small gestures and tradition of human touch would be ripped from our very (germ-free) hands.
I recently checked in to The Great Wolf Lodge (Pocono Mountains, PA) for a much-needed getaway with my children and within hours, I had attempted to touch or actually touched so many strangers - without a second thought. I touched an employee who was helping me check in and then I touched a stranger as I tapped him on the shoulder to ask about the waterslide he had just gone down. And then I saw a young child struggling to get in his raft for the lazy river and I instinctually reached out my hand to help him. And I felt guilt every single time. I wondered what these strangers thought or if they were annoyed at my efforts. I wondered if I had crossed a line and put someone's health at risk. This is just so utterly sad. Human touch... human connection is so very important and to be living in a world where it just can't be (for the time being) is so sad and worrisome and quite honestly-- overwhelming.
On our drive here, we drove past a homeless man who stood on the corner of the highway just before the George Washington Bridge. I was stuck in traffic and didn't know where my purse was and I was so totally stressed about the cars that were cutting in and out of traffic and risking our safety that I just couldn't track down my wallet to help this man. My kids asked "Are you going to give him money, mom?" Because usually I do. But today, I didn't. I was stressed and quickly snapped at my kids to get them to be quiet so I could focus on driving.
And my daughter's response surprised me- she said, "okay, well if we aren't going to give him money, we have to make eye contact with him." Her CCD class had a group of formerly homeless people come speak to them about their experiences. One of the men said that the best thing you can do when you see a homeless person is to make eye contact with them. He explained how many people go out of their way to avoid eye contact altogether when they see a homeless person. The man explained that it made him feel like an animal when people wouldn't look at him-- but when someone drove or walked by and made eye contact, he was reminded that he was human and with the intentional eye-contact of a stranger, he was offered the gift of human connection, which is invaluable.
And that my friends is the truth - you cannot put a price tag on human connection. And I am so sad for the world right now as we try to navigate the circumstances that are telling us to distance ourselves now more than ever. I am sad for our kids who will (hopefully) go to school in the fall, but won't get hugs or high fives from their teachers like they used to. I am sad to meet new people and just stand there awkwardly and say hi nice to meet you when I really wish I could shake their hands. I feel sad for children who can't visit their parents or grandparents and the grandkids who desperately want a hug from their nanas and pop pops. I feel sad for those who are newly dating and not sure if they can hold hands or kiss. I am sad for those people like my own sister who simply crave human touch and feel rejuvenated with a hug. I feel sad for adult children whose ailing parents sit behind the doors of nursing homes with so many uncertainties and so little connection and their only option is to accept their complete powerlessness over the situation. And to top it all off, I feel sad that so many beautiful smiles (with the power to uplift others) are now hidden under masks.
But we still have eye contact and as that man told my daughter, it can spark connection and warmth and love -- do not underestimate the power of your eyes. They can speak from your soul to someone else's. They can say all the things. They can spread love, joy and kindness.
Use your eyes wisely, friends, and make intentional contact with as many people as you can every damn day and when your mouth is covered by that mask, smile with your whole damn face.
And in the meantime, let's just hope and pray and remain faithful that one day we will back to shaking hands, hugging and high-fiving the hell out of each other. Until then... let your eyes do the shining.