Yesterday morning I had coffee with Kay (not her name). I so rarely have coffee in the middle of the morning , you could claim never. I have coffee for breakfast, two cups of black, percolated and that’s usually that. I remember the caller who said he drank more than 12 cups a day, wondering why his stomach was in uproar. But Kay is the living breathing example of the time it takes to get to know people (long version).
I have her acquaintance for about 10 years. She is as thin as a lath, with quite a deep voice, and she tells good stories. One of my favourite French words is “histoire (f)” and there is history to Kay. I may never know it but if I listen, I may get bits of it.
So we sat in the sun – never done this before – and talked. And when we said goodbye, I became aware of a fine tremor in her, and the warmth and sincerity of her “see you” double kiss.
I don’t know Carol Vorderman but we briefly shared the same working space. What I remember is that, when I went to say goodbye, she unexpectedly hugged me warmly.
Touch is a hard sense to quantify in the sense that it is very personal. You get messages, as in – years ago I had a close friend whom you couldn’t touch. Well, you might, but she froze. I come from a fairly demonstrative family so I had to make an effort not put my hand on her arm, or hug her when we met because she clearly didn’t want me to. And one day, unbidden, she began to tell me about her father’s abuse and her mother’s alcoholism.
One person may take your arm and it’s “giving.” Another will only take. All the massage techniques hinge on your finding a practitioner whose pressure suits you. What is uplifting with one person can be frankly uncomfortable with another. While if you can’t feel that the pressure is committed to you, that’s another kind of irritation.
You can shake hands with one person and it’s fine while I met a world famous clairvoyant and got the nastiest vibe through that hand.
The world is full of air kissers and schmoozers but somebody like the two women described above kiss your cheek and it means something entirely else. The place of the kiss in history is as fascinating as it is among people. There are touchers and non touchers and the reasons for their touch or the lack of it will be different – personal, cultural, social – and the rest. And I do believe that sometimes emotions are too deep for any demonstration (part of the appeal of the film Twilight).
All gestures of touch are open to interpretation. Scientific observers assure us that non verbal communication is most of our exchange and goes on all the time. It may be misconstrued, but not often. “I just didn’t like her” we say. Or “not sure about him.” My mother told me over and over again to trust my hunches. “If you think it is, it probably is” she said. It was a big gift for a little girl, to teach to trust her judgement and to regard the odd failure or shortfall as humanly inevitable.
Wanting someone to trust you doesn’t mean that they will or that they will not use the “key” of your touch against you. You spend a lifetime learning and you don’t always get it right. Like most human journeys, touch is two steps forward, one to the side, two missed – and try again.
Sometimes though, you get a real present like coffee with Kay or the total stranger who began a conversation with me over a corner bed of community planting, just up the road. And within three sentences, he had gone on into Brexit, about which he was most interesting. I was fascinated.
Three or four weeks later, on a very hot day, he came up to me in the market and reintroduced himself. “I remember you “ I said. “What I forgot to say” he said “is that you were the ikon of my youth. I never thought I would meet you, so I never thought I would say it.” And forget all that smart stuff about ikons hanging on the wall, and sweating like a small horse, I met his gaze and said “Thank you.” We kissed each other’s cheeks, he went off to have coffee with his wife and I went happily home.