This morning I read a little story about a Mom in Australia who held her newborn son against her skin for two hours after he was declared dead by doctors. Miraculously he gradually started showing signs of life, and today he is five months old, healthy and a joy to his parents.
Though it seems unrelated, this reminded me of a time, many years ago, when I was a therapist at a mental health clinic. It was my turn to stay in during lunch in case any "walk-ins" came in. A young man showed up, who I mistakenly agreed to see in my office alone, rather than remain in a place with an accessible exit to safety. He seemed rational until he started talking and demonstrating his paranoid delusions, one of them being about how much I resembled some woman he hated. As he spoke, his agitation increased as did my fear that he would become violent. I'm not sure which or how many drugs he had taken.
But eventually, he calmed down, and then was able to talk a little about the drama in his life - abandonment issues, rage, self-destructive behaviors. Staying "detached" from clients never proved to be one of my best therapeutic skills and all I could think about was how sad I felt for him. How must his mother feel?
He talked and I listened. There was not much more I could do, besides encouraging him to connect with family. He refused any services and would not be returning because he actually lived rather far away, in another town. He intended to return to his life style, which included occasional homelessness, to give in to his drug addiction and to remain isolated from his family, who lived in another state. He seemed determined to end his life, a little at a time.
I was relieved when he left my office, and uncharacteristically, I walked him to his car lest he linger in some other part of the facility. After shaking hands, the young man turned to leave. I felt I had not really helped him and all I could do was lay my hand on his back for a second in a motherly, caring manner.
About two weeks later, I received a call from someone whose name I did not recognize. It was the young man. He called to thank me, to tell me that he thought a lot about our conversation and that he had decided he wanted to turn his life around. He had called his parents and was going home.
We all know this was not the happy ending. It was merely the beginning of a long journey for this young man, but it was nice to know that at least for that moment, he had selected a happier path. Whether he stayed on it, I will never know.
The reason the baby story made me think of the young man's story is because I perceive that within them they contain a lesson about the power of touch.
It was the mother's warmth, and the love she communicated through her skin, that revived a life which had already decided to leave.
I know there may be many factors involved, but I am convinced that the touching of that young man is what made the most significant difference in our interaction. Somehow I know I communicated more with the brief, gentle touch than with the words I used.
There are various modalities that incorporate touch for healing, for balancing energy, etc... There is massage, Healing Touch Therapy, Reiki, and others. I think they're all good because the intention is sound and they really can do no harm. But, I don't think you need formal training to touch someone and wish them well.
I don't think we outgrow our need for touch, the same way we don't outgrow our need for food. The human spirit takes nourishment in many forms and in many ways we are all hungry for the gentle, loving touch of a loved one, or even a stranger.
For today, I'm going to focus on touch and how it can communicate my intentions. I hope I transmit the wish for love, health and well-being to all whom I touch.