For variety sake during recent times traveling my work roads, I’ll take a Sirius-XM jump from my usual sports-squawk stations to a country station, The Highway. Now, I’ll tell you that whenever I take this jump into those country waters, I always have the same initial thought, which is that when it comes to the male singers, while their subject matter may differ, pretty much all of their voices sound alike to me.
As for the lyrics, I’m always pretty interested in this type of music because the storyteller who lives within me appreciates the fact that, with a country song, you generally are going to get a three-minute narrative. During the half hour or so I was listening on my way to yet another city and another account, I heard a couple songs about that old country staple, trucks.
Just when I pretty much thought that today’s country singers wouldn’t have much else to say about that mode of transportation that hasn’t already been covered by those country singers of yore, I heard some fella named Sam Hunt rattle off a pretty long list of what types of things I could do, but what wasn’t on the list was touching his truck. Two songs later, I heard another sound-alike singer named Luke Bryan wax nostalgically about his growing up in Georgia riding in trucks.
Amid the half hour’s worth of tunes I heard, there was one song that caught my ear because it showed me that COVID-19 has been with us long enough now to be introduced as a musical topic. The song, “Six Feet Apart,” is sung another sound-alike, Luke Combs.
The lyrics, I thought, really captured so much of what we’ve been missing since this whole social-distancing thing began last March. By song’s end, I pretty much had a topic for this week’s column. Later when I sat down to write, I Googled Combs’ lyrics, and the words that stuck out for me were, “I miss giving hugs and shaking hands/It’s a mystery, I suppose/Just how long this thing goes.”
Of all the things this pandemic has taken from us, I think the singer with those words shed some light on the one you won’t find in the ubiquitous headlines of rampant unemployment and the struggles of small business. It’s the sense of loss many of us feel when it comes to losing a good deal of human interaction. In other words, it’s the smiles we don’t see behind masked faces when we pass each other in the aisles at Meijer.
And, more than the smiles, it’s the loss of that largely ignored sense, the sense of touch, the first sense humans develop, according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I’m actually quite a big fan and always have been of the tactile, whether it be it a quick pat on the back or shoulder or arm, a warm embrace or the type of handshake first taught to me by my favorite extroverted steel salesman, my dad. His shake passed along to his only son was one executed firmly with the palm leading the way before the fingers gripped the wrist and, of course, it was to be accompanied by direct eye contact and a smile.
Those who know me best will tell you that I’ve always been a tactile sort of guy. My former students should remember a quick tap on the shoulder whenever I went up and down rows checking notebook entries or answering a quick question they had on comma placement or the appropriateness of a semicolon.
The taps were quick acknowledgments, a way of telling them that in the challenging curriculum I felt it incumbent on me to present, despite the occasional times they may stumble, that I cared about them and would not give up on them as long as they didn’t give up on themselves.
While I’ve kept my distance from most in these troubling times, those about whom I care the most — dear friends and family and, of course, Lady Jane — are still getting the up-close treatment upon which those CDC folks frown.
Studies have been done on extreme touch deprivation in child rearing, and scientists agree as to its importance. Not only is it important for newborns, but touch is also a powerful elixir for the big folks as well. Tanmoy Goswami, who calls himself a sanity correspondent while working in business journalism in his native India, has written extensively about the importance of touch as it relates to anxiety, depression and suicide prevention.
According to Goswami, touch encourages feelings of motivation, reward and compassion, and release oxytocin, a hormone that stimulates the pleasure associated with social bonding, pain relief and emotional safety. Touch also can lower blood pressure, reduce heart rate and can even reduce our chances of getting ill.
So it is that we all miss our warm smiles and especially those handshakes, taps and pats and especially those hugs. While there are those doomsayers out there who say that we’ll never again return to the way we used to be and use that (expletive-inserted) expression I’ve grown to despise, “the new normal,” I’m taking a far more positive tack, so much so, I’m sneaking in a few handshakes, pats, taps and hugs just to stay in practice.
And, of course, the reason why is as obvious to me as it is to other tactile folks. Touch is not only our birthright but also a most necessary medicine.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a division of AIM Media Midwest.