Saturday, August 04, 2007

side by side

I am working on a little collaboration and it involved me having a conversation with someone currently living in the streets. I wanted to be able to get his view of things for this project I am working on (and that part is coming soon) but what really struck me during our conversation was the normalness of his life and yet how not normal it really was. Of how the reality you exist in is normal to you but when you've truly lived through alternate realities it's the memories of the other shinier ones that makes it the hardest to reconcile.

One of the things he brought up was missing being touched. Not necessarily getting laid (he made sure I noted the difference) but just the simple act of touching. That people act afraid of him or put off and give him a wide berth instead of coming close and he can go for weeks or months without ever coming into human contact with another person. As he mentioned that I was sitting across from him with a table in between and so I asked him if I could sit beside him, to just sit, not to do anything weird (I made sure he noted the difference) and he said it was alright by him. So I moved across the table and we sat in the sun for awhile and watched the birds and talked about his view on things. When our conversation was over I thanked him for giving me some of his time and he thanked me for listening and I made sure to hold his hand for a moment as I would do with anyone I feel close to or appreciate because I felt both sitting there with him.

And I walked back out of his reality and back into mine, one that has money in my wallet and a food in my fridge and a fridge itself and it seemed so fundamentally wrong in that moment to so easily be able to walk away and know that I'll be touched a dozen times more before I go to sleep for no good reason at all except because there are people in this world (my child most of all) who want to make sure I am still right here and how I never even consider that the luxury that it is.

42 comments:

flutter said...

This is so true. One of the saddest things I came in contact with as my work as a massage therapist was a man who cried on my table, because I was the first person to touch him in 2 years.

I cried more that day than I have in my life.

Blog Antagonist said...

Your story illustrates so poignantly that homelessness is about so much more than not having a place to live. Thanks for sharing that.

Lawyer Mama said...

Well, thank you for bringing up a facet of homelessness that I'd never thought about. We take for granted the constant touch when we're in a relationship or have children, don't we?

Momish said...

Between this post and Flutter's comment, my heart is broken. There are just so many aspects to homelessness that aren't noticed or considered. I often feel the same way about the elderly. I use to volunteer for an organization that brought pets to visit elderly folk living alone. To watch them cuddle these little critters like children was bittersweet.

Touch is a powerful thing, so much that the thought of someone going even a day without a loving pat on the arm is beyond sad.

It is heartening to know you were there for him and perhaps filled him up for a time being.

kiki said...

Being touched is something I didn't realize I take for granted and it's probably the first thing that is gone when someone ends up on the street.
Today my heart broke a lot as I sat in the chair getting my haircut and I commented that there seems to be a lot more homeless people down in the East Village...and my hair guy saying he hadn't noticed, that he makes a point not to look or notice the homeless people. He is a nice person but the distaste with which he uttered this statement made me sad for him, sad that he doesn't recognize how narrow that tabletop really is.

You've made me so much more aware Jen and for that, I'm forever grateful. xoxo

slouching mom said...

You told this so simply and elegantly, jen. And there's so much truth in it. But what most moves me here is you. I know you don't like hearing it, but to ask to sit next to him as you did?

That gesture of yours made me cry. No joke.

thailandchani said...

You have a gift for this.. and for grasping the subtleties of that kind of life.

That's the important thing.. and that's the thing of value. All the political wrangling in the world has no significance in comparison.


Peace,

~Chani

Christine said...

i remember hearing the story of an old woman who only went to church for the sign of peace when everyone hugged and shook hands. she was so alone and untouched. we take for granted sometimes how important touch is. as mothers we sometimes get "touched out" and we want them OFF, but really we should eat it up and remember how lucky we are.

and you are so perfect to hold his hand. that is why we love you so.

KC said...

Of course you did that. I wonder who else would.

We need touch as humans to grow, to be nurtured. I simply can't imagine not having that in my life.

Janet said...

Today I have been feeling completely mauled by my children. Then I read this post and suddenly I feel...lucky. Or maybe 'fortunate' is a more apt word.

Whatever the adjective, I thank you for shifting my paradigm.

FENICLE said...

Wow, what a statement from his perspective. I think we take human contact for granted. I also feel like so many older people (especially in nursing facilities) lack human touch. It does so much for one's spirit. I look forward to hearing more about this project!

Ruth Dynamite said...

The power of touch - yes. So true. Thanks, Jen, as always.

Kyla said...

Oh man, that gets me. I can't imagine. You just don't really think about that aspect. I think I'd fail to thrive without kind human touch. It is so vital to me, just as important as food, water, and shelter.

Slackermommy said...

I'm in quite an emotional state right now with the death of my nephew so I'm not sure if that contributed to how hard I cried while reading this. My heart goes out to this man because I grew up in a neglectful and emotionally abusive home but what was the most damaging to me was the lack of touching. There was very little touching and virtually no hugging in my childhood home. That lack of touch had more of an effect on me than any of the emotional abuse. I work really hard to make sure I lovingly touch my older children every day. Isn't sad that I have to work on that?

You do good, Jen. You do real good.

jen said...

oh, slackermommy. i am hugging you from across the miles right now. i am.

Persephone said...

Your post and so many of the comments here are extremely moving. Thank you.

meno said...

That was brave of him to tell you, and sweet of you to give him some touch (after making sure he understood the difference.)

Aliki2006 said...

God--this was so powerful to me, imagining a world without touch for someone. I can't bear to think how lonely that must be.

kgirl said...

One more thing to be so thankful for.

Mad Hatter said...

Beautiful, Jen.

As I lay in bed this morning in a hot humid bedroom, my daughter who slept in just a diaper snuggled in close. My husband woke up and gave her a hug. All three of us were naked from the waist up and I remember thinking distinctly, "My soul would die if I lost this. This skin on my skin." And now, tonight, I read these words and my heart doesn't quite know how to respond.

mitzh said...

You have a heart of gold.

This post made me cry and made me see life as it truly is and be thankful for the things that we somehow, sometimes take for granted.

Jocelyn said...

Oh. You. YOU.

You writer person woman who does this to me everytime.

I get all soppy at this blog. I love the way you convey really important things to me so simply.

Bon said...

another's skin, offered in kindness...so necessary to us, no matter how old we get or alone and scary we seem.

you did justice to his dignity with this, Jen.

i'm looking forward to the rest.

crazymumma said...

a basic human right.

to be seen. to be touched.

just to be looked at.

I bet you made his day month year.

Julie Pippert said...

I understand the normal and abnormal.

I am not surprised about the missing being touched comment. I have heard that, from a variety of people in different circumstances on the outside of "normal." The thing they most miss is touch and companionship.

That's just devastating to me.

As someone who has so much of it that I get touched out sometimes...I feel horrible.

This is a very touching post (no pun intended, but still, think about he language).

Julie
Ravin' Picture Maven

Hel said...

I have written this sentence three times and I am finding no words to let you know how much I appreciate you and your subtle wisdom.

I wish I could put my heart next to yours and it would tell you what I cannot say because how do I type how she dances to your words. How she manages to feel sadness and hope all at once.

Your heart deserves your gift, to sense what is needed and give it without heaviness.

I am glad I found these words and you because your heart also recognises the wisdom of music and beer and happiness.

Rock on sister.

Orangeblossoms said...

I always remind the elderly ladies in church to get at least five hugs before they leave for the week, just because I know that this kind of touch is healing and life-giving. It breaks my heart to see those who are considered 'untouchable'-- a term we reserve for certain castes in India-- but, truthfully, could be applied anywhere. Thanks, Jen, again... for this!

Ally said...

Just beautiful. And so, so sad. Thanks for the reminder to treasure all of the touches I get each day, even when it feels like I'm being mauled. And, even if this sounds cheesey, I'm going to say it, because it's how I feel: thank you for the work that you do so well. I feel like the world is a better place because you are in it, making small differences in peoples' lives each day. You inspire all of us to do the same.

Beck said...

THat hurts so deeply to think about these untouched people living these unnecessarily hard, cruel lives.

Lillithmother said...

Gawd damn Jen I'm bawling after reading this magnificient post. Being a mom who is forever being touched..."mommy, pick me up!! mommy, hold me!! mommy, rocking chair!!"...it feels more like I'm being taken from, and by the end of the day I am all tapped out of the comfort and love that these touches seemingly offer to her.

what a poignant reminder this man was that human touch, be it physical or emotional aint' something to be taken for granted.

I needed to read this today...thank you sister.

Lil

thordora said...

I'm always so hesitant with the homeless because I don't want to hurt anyone's pride. I don't want to make it any worse than it might already be.

This week, I think I'll make the effort.

bgirl said...

this is an incredibly touching post for all the reasons people have said. i would echo slouching's words, that your open, truly open heart is so inspiring.

The Expatriate Chef said...

See, you touch me, too. So few us have courage like you. I will make you an extra special big cobbler. Anytime.

mamatulip said...

Your soul's shining through on this post. You are right. It is a luxury.

Jennifer said...

Oh, this post and the comments here. I'm in tears. You did a good thing, Jen, and it truly is inspiring.

ewe are here said...

You know, when we had the wee ones, I remember reading about how important it was to hug and cuddle them at least 16 times a day (or something like that) for developmental reasons. Obviously, my boys get a lot more hugging and cuddling and touching than '16 times a day', but this post does make me wonder...

What about all those lonely, isolated, homeless people... Does not being 'touched' by others start to cause psychological problems in and of itself? And like your homeless friend said, he's often given wide berth on top of it.

So sad.

deb said...

It's funny you should write about this. When I was in Chicago, wandering around, I met a lot of homeless people. I gave them money but I also rubbed their arm and told them to take care of themselves. It's the nurse in me, I always touch my patients. I didn't know that homeless people don't get touched, it would be awful. I need to be touched on a regular basis. Katie gives me that, too much sometimes, but she does give me that.

Susanne said...

I never thought about this before. But I guess there are quite a few people out there who go without being touched. Because in our culture we learn to not touch at an early age.

I'll go and give my family an extra hug...

Wayfarer Scientista said...

Touch is so important. A lot of exchange students miss that being in a place where they know people well enough to touch them. I remember when I was in Germany going up to a stranger on the street and asking for a hug - being German the stranger was completely flabbergasted but gave it to me before they thought about it. And as you point out so poignantly, asking is not an option for some folks. The human touch can heal more than those who do not lack it realize. Thanks for sharing Jen.

carrie said...

Well said. A luxury indeed.

If only I could convince myself that when I've been "visited" in the bathroom by a curious toddler who does not think mommys need privacy. Sigh . . .

I wish the world thought like you do.

Carrie

QT said...

I loved this post. I can't imagine it, truly. Not only did I grow up in a house where I was hugged constantly, I touch people all the time.

That poor soul.

Mom101 said...

You just brought back memories of doing similar in Boston when I was in college. The abnormality of it all suddenly seemed so normal in the throes of it. Beautiful post.

(and thanks for stopping by my place.)