The Currency of Touch

It’s a long-standing rule of exchange that a thing is only worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it. As necessary or prized commodities grow rare, they correspondingly increase in value. A few easy examples that come immediately to mind are oil, gold, corn, saffron, or art. And for some of us, touch.

This thought came to me yesterday when I went to see my massage therapist. It seems that our society, our culture, is increasingly becoming one of alienation. Our media overwhelms us and largely replaces what previously would have been gleaned from personal interaction or the expansion of our imaginations by (gasp) reading a book, gardening, creating art, or making music. A trip to the doctor’s office for many of us consists of sitting and waiting for an absurd amount of time, flipping with disinterest the pages of some similarly mindless magazine, trying not to draw attention from the restless natives. The payoff of this purgatorial penance is a cold, bright room, a doctor who rarely if ever looks up from his chart, a minute or two of rapid interview and a piece of paper to cure (or mask) your affliction.

How much I cherish the healing arts, those practices of wellness that thrive on essential human nurturing. The massage therapist, the chiropractor, the acupuncturist, these are vocations that focus on curing the cause, not just treating symptoms, and maintaining wellness and health, preventing dis-ease (a concept I wish, with all my heart, the insurance companies would embrace) – all of this through personal attention, intention, and touch.

Of course these interactions are professional and clinical, but also deeply comforting. There is a therapy that goes beyond kneading tissues and manipulating spines, a therapy of knowing the comfort of someone else’s hand on your body with healing intent. We open ourselves, we let down our defenses, we accept and are accepted. Such acceptance, that kind of touch, is a highly valuable commodity. Whether in the massage room or on the acupuncturist’s table, my meager funds are willingly traded for this deeper healing, with great gratitude to a person with such a calling.

Too many times have I withheld touch from someone, or when it’s been withheld from me, and the resulting and intense need that follows can be suffocating. On the other hand (and happily a much more common occurrence in my life), being welcomed warmly into a friend’s arms, being kissed fully by a loved one, the spontaneous and frank expression of fondness is a beautiful and simple joy. Touch, to me, is priceless.

1 Comment

  1. Fakey McFakerston

     /  July 21, 2008

    On the note of being a culture of alienation, you might want to check out the book “Bowling Alone” ( It talks a lot about how there used to be communities in the US and people had more personal interaction than they do these days. There used to be neighborhood associations that were robust, and no one ever bowled alone – it was as part of a league.

    If we’re alone, it isn’t entirely the media’s fault. We do still retain our own personal choice. While I’d agree that people being more alone is not a good thing, we should be careful to weigh it against some of the other things that are related, and also come as part of modernity. For example, being able to contact people instantly throughout the globe via the internet, having unparalleled access to education and economic success, freedom of mobility, and so on. Being able to go wherever, whenever, and having increasingly few physical restrictions makes us more alone, but shit, there’s a huge upside!

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