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The power we hold

Updated: Jan 12

Skin may be the largest organ of the human body, but really, aside from wanting it to look youthful until the day we die, we don't much think about its practical aspects. Key among them, skin's role as the conduit for touch.

Touch has fallen out of favor in the Me Too era, and not without good reason. Unwanted touching violates the person enduring the assault, and devalues the precious sensation that is the human touch.

We all missed touch during the pandemic. Simple gestures – an embrace, a peck on the cheek, even a handshake – were verboten for what seemed an eternity. It hurt being estranged in that way.

Back when my husband was a newspaper columnist, he wrote that he would go around with a “small hollow spot” on the days when he hadn't held the kids and me.

“There is a minor itching in my soul,” he wrote, “a subtle tug of expectation that stays with me until my wife and kids and I squeeze it away together.”

That kind of family intimacy is sublime. But I was recently reminded of just how powerful touch can be, even when it involves a stranger.

I was in the periodontist's chair, undergoing that most dreaded of dental procedures: the implant.

I am not a big baby. I delivered four children without the aid of anesthesia not because I'm especially brave or stoic, but if I can see an end to the pain, I'm pretty sure I can endure it. So far, anyway.

So I was stretched out on the big comfy dental chair, tense as the titanium rod they were about to screwed into my jaw. I was calm, but comfort was in a far-off place.

And then, the hygienist assisting the doctor simply put her hand on my shoulder. And I felt my entire body relax. She obviously wasn't going to save me from this procedure, but that simple gesture somehow drained all the tension from my screaming inner self.

Afterward, I thanked her for helping me. She told me that such a touch had helped her through cancer treatments, and she was glad to pass it on.

Studies using PET scans have found that the brain quiets in response to stress when a person's hand is held, even by a stranger. Touch calms our nervous center and slows down our heartbeat. It lowers blood pressure as well as cortisol, the stress hormone. It is also thought to trigger the release of oxytocin, a hormone known for promoting emotional bonding to others.

I now know on a deeper level than ever before the power conveyed in the phrase, “It touched me.”

My state of being was altered, heart and soul. Pass it on.


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