Cathy Dennis once said: “Hold me, baby. Drive me crazy. Touch me (ah-ah-ah) all night long.”
I often forget what it’s liked to be touched. Maybe I’m starved for physical affection (I once told someone that I would actually die if I don’t get a sufficient amount of cuddles), but I find that even the slightest of brushes with another human being sends me spiraling into existentialism.
The latest episode took place as I sat in a black folding chair in the center of a tattoo parlor in Montclair, NJ. As my latest impulsive decision was being needled into my skin (this one X-Files themed), I tried to find some comfort from the pain in the heavy warmth of my tattoo artist’s arm resting on my own. And suddenly that unassuming bit of skin-to-skin contact reminded me that this person was indeed a person, a human being with their own hopes, ideals, dreams, and idiosyncrasies.
Because sometimes it’s easy to get wrapped up in the monotony of everyday life, and while meandering through your daily routine, it’s easy to fall victim to that devil that is Self-Absorption. Walking down the street, it’s easiest to put your head down, throw on some tunes, and forget that out of 7.125 billion people, you are but a blip on the radar that is planet Earth and her inhabitants.
Unfortunately, it’s a truly lonely thought that you’re all by yourself in the world, spiraling around the sun 365 (and occasionally 366) days a year without companionship.
This is where touch comes in. It doesn’t always have to be to the tune of Cathy Dennis (or Olivia Newton John or Mariah Carey or the touch-based songstress of your choice). The realm of physical affection is lined with friendly hugs and hearty claps on the back. And sometimes it’s even less than that.
The warmth of a handshake from someone you’re meeting for the first time. Standing next to someone in a crowded space and realizing that they’re a living, breathing human being. They are more than a set of organs and skin cells. You’re standing next to a person with thoughts, ideas, and life experiences. Sitting close to someone you care about, you can hear the rhythm of their breathing, the gentle rise of their chest as they inhale a new set of memories that you can’t possibly experience.
This doesn’t mean that you should start groping people on the streets in the name of establishing a shared memory. Any memory bred from such a situation is bound to involve at least two police cars and a BU Alert with your name and face on it. The idea is this: You’re not alone on Earth. Sometimes it feels as though you’re bumbling through your life, the lonely protagonist in your very own bio-pic (mine, for example, is a horror-comedy in which I am played by a young Robert De Niro). The rest of the world blends into the backdrops on the set behind you, Earth’s inhabitants reduced to a crowd of CGI extras–holograms of people whose sole purpose is to fill in space in the background.
But they’re so much more than that. Every person you meet is a solid, tangible being. They are feelings and thoughts and stardust, moving through the everyday just like you are. They are more than just a blur in the corner of your eye or a shadow behind your shoulder. While you aren’t going to have a meaningful interaction with everyone you encounter, understanding the tangibility of those around you is vital in maintaining the ability to Understand. When you begin to look at people as just that–people–making connections becomes a whole lot easier.