Touch Me

This, the last poem in Stanley Kunitz’s Collected Poems (2000), touches me every time I read it. I thought of it often during the months of isolating and social distancing, though my hugging-averse friends have a point that we do entirely too much indiscriminate touching here. Handshakes could go, especially in ‘flu season, even with diligent hand-washing.

Covid Haiku

I want a hug as much as the next person,

But I’m not dying for one.

Posted to my social media page, this got the biggest response ever.

Touch is necessary to human thriving, but the pandemic has taught us to be more selective about who we touch and how. Maybe we could do better than hokey-jokey elbow bumps of politicians. Eye contact, a nod. Hand on heart. Palms pressed into namaste, say, or Japanese-style bows.

As I learned in Japan, one quickly adopts and adapts, even if a few rules of etiquette are mangled in the process. For example, who initiates the bow? Gender differences? How low to go? Can you bow and exit gracefully? Do you bow to an elevator attendant? Maître d’ but not server? This is probably all covered in a handbook for business travelers.

In Tokyo, particularly on public transportation or in crowds – impossible to avoid – it was common to see people wearing masks. At the time of my visit, I found it noteworthy. But isn’t it just common courtesy, common sense, to avoid spreading a cold, the ‘flu, or worse? No big deal in a nation that puts community good ahead of personal convenience.

This afternoon, I’ll be meeting my book group on Zoom, once again. Omicron transmission is still a factor in South Florida where I live, though many of my fellow citizens are resisting vaccination and refusing to wear masks. (Neil Gorsuch, for shame!) When we began talking about books just before Covid, we took turns entertaining and we all miss that face to face intimacy, and yes, hugging. However, like most people I know, I’ve adjusted to Zoom (even if I haven’t mastered how to make myself look less cadaverous).  

Thanks to Zoom, I am part also of the Montclair Writers Group that used to meet in the local library. I live and raised my children in Montclair, New Jersey, earned two degrees from Montclair State U, so I feel I’m home, in some sense. These weekly meetings where we write poetry or prose to prompts for about 20 minutes each, then ‘gather’ to read and share some writerly tips and ideas, was the inspiration for my 80th birthday poetry reading on Zoom last October. About 50 friends and family members from around the U.S., plus England and Germany, joined in. High tech; high touch! Intimate as one could get in, in our little lighted Hollywood squares. Brought to us by Covid-19. Who would have thought?!