Tuesday, January 31, 2006

ON THE BENEFITS OF TOUCH and other things I learned from the newspaper

Come live with me and be my love
Originally uploaded by pfong.

There's not a lot of good news in the newspaper. Most of what fills its pages is frankly discouraging, and some terrifying enough to ruin your whole day if you imbibe it with your morning coffee.

But if you search hard, there are some cheery bits to be found in the sea of black and white darkness.

Today, for instance, I read that it has been scientifically proven that holding hands is not only good for your health; it's potent enough to actually mitigate physical pain. What's more, the closer the relationship of the hand-holders, the stronger the medicine touch provides. Hand holding by strangers helps, too, but not nearly as much as the comforting pressure of a loved one's hand. Thus, in some way, we create our own "medicine" by the way we relate to others.

The study used married couples who had identified themselves as "close and loving." But when it comes to healing, it's "close and loving" that works the miracle, not the box you check to describe your marital status.

When I was done with the story about holding hands, I turned to the obits. And no, I don't find other people's loss and misery heartening. But I do find great encouragement and strength in a life well-lived--a life like Wendy Wasserstein's, the playwright who died yesterday in Manhattan.

I never met Wasserstein, but like my friends here in the blogosphere, she had made her way into my mind and my life with her words--words that were full of laughter, and questions, and her own brand of optimism.

To anyone who might be feeling a little despondent because they have no close, loving spouse around to hold their hands and massage their neurons, Wendy Wasserstein had this to say:

"No matter how lonely you get or how many birth announcements you receive, the trick is not to get frightened. There's nothing wrong with being alone."

Now substitute the words for whatever frightens you or presents an obstacle to your happiness for lonely and alone and recite those words alone in a loud voice.

There's no study to prove it yet, but I'm willing to wager your neurons will love you for it.


Anonymous said...

. . . love this post . . . have you read any of Candace Pert's stuff? She's a psychoneuroimmunology researcher and has a book out called The Molecules of Emotion . . . fascinating stuff

MB said...

What a wonderful post, Patry. I love the way you wove this together. It makes me recall the power of my mother's hand on my forehead, which I remember vividly, though she's been gone for years.

Sharon Hurlbut said...

Oh yes, after some twenty-odd kidney stones, I can certainly attest to the power of a loved one's hand. I also find looking into my husband's eyes can get me through just about anything.

And what a great quote from Wendy Wasserstein. They are comforting words. I love the way you tied two such disparate things together here, Patry.

sara said...

I love this post...it's my first visit to your blog (thank you for visiting mine!) but I know I'll be back again...

Mary said...

This is good, Patry. There is an indirect challenge too. If no-one is seemingly reaching out to hold my hand, do I have the courage to reach out, or even as a start tothink about reaching out, to hold someone else's. Thanks for this.

Melly said...

Does holding hands while walking in the park count?

I think that everybody knew this in their hearr, but it's nice to have a scientific study. I mean, from the time we were kids and mum held our hand during a visit to the dentist, to when we held our loved ones' hands - we just always did.

Alex S said...

Wonderful, wonderful post, and I loved Wasserstein's quote too. So often in this culture theres messages that theres something wrong with being alone, and of course there isn't. It would be much worse to be in a lonely marriage. The reality is single life and married life both have their big ups and downs. The grass isn't greener on the other side. We have to plant flowers whereever we are right now. And find a hand to hold- or a paw!

P. A. Moed said...

I read the obit too and that line also resonated with me. I'm so glad you highlighted it here. It's so wise.

Zhoen said...

Babies not sufficiently touched 'fail to thrive', losing weight and not developing, despite having enough food and cleanliness.

Same thing seems to happen to the institutionalized elderly who are not touched.

I always touch my patients, if only on a foot (if they seem to be averse to a hand hold.)

Tom.... said...

Touch with the proper distance is important to all communication...as a teacher, I make it a point to pat my students backs, grab a guy by the arm, playfully squeeze the neck of a miscreant...all within the boundaries of NO innap. touch, NO force, etc..
A little dicey with the female students. but a gentle pat on the closest shoulder seems to send the message that I am concerned with them.
So far not probs....
As for touch with a spouse, I am a world-class backrubber...

Sky said...

As always, a fabulous post! I know the power of touch - it has brought sleep to my weary or painful body many times! Touch brings healing oxygen to the area.

Your writing is refreshing, and I always love the different perspective it brings. :)

Ivy said...

Oh my, WW stayed in the same studio I did last year at MacDowell. I didn't know that she died recently. :-(

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

This fits in beautifully with what I've been thinking and feeling and doing lately. Thank you, Patry.

Perfect Virgo said...

Touching is powerful and virgos reserve it for only the closest.

I have just finished watching Scorsese's Dylan documentary and remember I promised to report in. I am left feeling he touched everyone he met in some way or another. Barely more than a boy he established himself entirely on his own terms. Middle-aged idiot interviewers asking crass questions got all the impenetrable answers they deserved. I thought the presentation was sympathetic with the benefit of hindsight despite being confined to the controversial years up to 1966.

Interesting how the many contributors all gave the impression they had played a vital role in his achievements yet the man himself barely mentioned any of them by name. He did what he did with or without them.

Anonymous said...

I have always believed in the power of touch.

Anonymous said...

Patry, I'm trying to send you an email but couldn't find your address anywhere. Could you please email me at


Patry Francis said...

Kate: The name Candace Pert sounds familiar--but not familiar enough. I'll have to check her out. Thanks.

mb: I've been trying to increase the number of people I touch every day. There's been so much talk about how healthy the "Mediterranean diet" is, but it's also a region of the world known for ample and generous touching. Who knows if that's not a factor?

Sharon: So true. I think of when I was in labor...if my husband even went to the bathroom for a minute, the pain instantly got worse.

telfair: Thanks for visiting.

Mary: That's what I loved about Wasserstein's words--their inherent self-empowerment. And seems like she lived it, too--actually went out and had a child on her own at 48!

melly: Yes, it's strange how we have scientific studies to tell us things that even a newborn knows instinctively: when you're scared, reach out and grab someone's hand.

alexandra: Definitely don't leave out the paws!

Patti: I think so much of her spirit was in that line.

zhoen: Your patients are fortunate indeed--in many ways.

tom: Interesting from a teacher's perspective. My daughter is studying elementary ed. in college, and during her internship, she was discouraged from hugging her students. I understand why, but it's still kind of sad.

sky: "Healing oxygen." Yes, it's that essential. Well said.

Ivy: Sorry to be the bearer of that sad news. I'm sure you have lots of memories.

richard: I'm off to find out exactly what you've been thinking...you never disappoint.

p.v. Your comment about virgos and selective touch made me smile. I share my home with a couple of them, and can verify it's true!

Glad you found time for the Dylan doc. I knew you would like it--and that you'd have something interesting to say. Oh yes, I loved the way that young boy handled those silly reviewers. Almost as if he was born wise.

simply coll: Nice to see you here!

DTclarinet said...

Hello Patry.

I yearn to touch and be touched more. I was at my chiropracters today and truly enjoyed being touched.

I often daydream about sitting with friends holding hands, but I never seem to make it happen.

Nice little meditation on being safe while alone.

I haven't seen any of Wasserstein's plays, but after reading about her, I want to.


Perfect Virgo said...

I remember you have the inside track on virgos Patry, glad that made you smile! I saw Dylan 5 years ago in a smallish venue - 2000 seats. He was as enigmatic as ever, never said a word to the audience. At the end of a passionate set (8 accoustic - 8 electric of course) he and his band stood in a defiant row at the front of the stage staring at the crowd. They turned and walked off without a wave.

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