The Gift of Touch
Remember that old commercial, “Reach Out and Touch Someone”?
How quaint it all seems now. And while we all got the message—that “touching” was a metaphor for being connected—today the absence of touch is emotionally devastating.
I am a retired congregational rabbi. For over forty years my life was immersed in the joys and struggles of the human condition. From birth to death and everything in between, I tried to help others find meaning. And experience taught me that my greatest tool was simply being present.
So much of life is about nothing more than showing up. For those we love. For our friends and family. For those who gave us life and those for whom we bear the responsibility—the privilege—of being a companion on this journey we call Life.
Yet never has this sacred obligation been more challenging than during the past year.
I have a granddaughter who lives just a few miles away. But I cannot hug her. I have dear friends who have breathed their last during these past months. And I couldn’t even say good-bye. I have officiated at baby-namings and memorials while sitting in front of a computer screen. And all along I’ve thought to myself, I’m really glad I’m retired. They don’t prepare you for pandemics in the seminary.
True, all of this could be worse. I‘ve often wondered how my great-grandparents made it through the influenza epidemic of 1918? Or how those who—during the Holocaust—hid for years in small rooms and crawl spaces and forests? What if this current pandemic had happened just a few years ago, before any of us had personal computers and cell phones? Before Zoom and FaceTime? Think about this. You’re reading this on the Internet. But what about those who don’t have Internet? What about those who don’t have wifi? Or computers? In so many ways, we are blessed.
Martin Buber, the great theologian of the last century, taught that all life takes on meaning in relationship. As John Donne so poignantly reminded us, no man is an island. And as Joan Baez unfolded Donne’s words, no man stands alone. We need the other. And given our current predicament, we yearn for the gift of touch.
There is a Yiddish saying, “This too will pass.” And I am certain it will. And we will return to normalcy. Yet my sense is that it will be a new normalcy. We will reacquaint ourselves to restaurants and theaters and sporting events. We will go back into our friends’ homes for Saturday night parties. But our practice of donning masks and maintaining social distance will remain. At least for the foreseeable future.
What I hope, however, is that—in time—we will be able to overcome the fears we learned in this past year and find the courage to reach out and touch each other. With hugs. And holding hands. Because this is what makes us human. This is what gives life meaning.
Copyright © 2021 Steven Kushner
Steve is a Reform rabbi who, in his retirement, found purpose and meaning in photography. Although primarily a street photographer, of late he has turned to seeing the power in images of abandoned buildings and still lifes. His award-winning work has been presented in galleries and shows in New Jersey.
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