I really don’t like to be touched. It’s not that it’s a particularly bad thing, it’s just that when you touch me, it makes me want to punch you in the face.
I can’t explain it. It’s just a thing for me. Ya know?
Some people just have a very clearly defined personal space bubble. I’m one of them. When you cross into my bubble, it’s like I can feel the air pressure change. It makes me uncomfortable. I mean, I’m not a huge freak about it, like, I won’t go to great lengths to keep you away, but I will be aware, very aware, if you are lingering too closely. If you happen to be a habitual crosser of what I deem an acceptable distance, I may* avoid you.
I’m not a hugger. I’m not a close-talker. I’m not a forearm caresser. I will not whisper a secret in your ear – and if you whisper one in mine, I will physically shudder. Yes. You will see the disgust shiver up my spine and out through my shoulders, like a dry heave…coming straight from my soul. And don’t even play that I’m-putting-my-hands-over-your-eyes-to-make-you-guess-who’s-standing-behind-you game with me. You may* regret it.
Of course, there are exceptions to this aversion; My husband and my kids. With them, I have no limits, no bubbles, no spine tingling heeby-jeebies. But even so, there are occasions that I say to them, “Can you just, please, back off?”
I know. I only get more and more charming, right?
(For the record, I don’t talk to myself. I’m not a light switch flicker, a lock checker, or a hand washer. I don’t count my steps or avoid sidewalk cracks like my life depends on it. And this is not a germ thing, as in I am not paralyzed by some fear of catching the plague from a handshake. I think of it more as a preference than a neurosis. Ya know? Like, I prefer that you keep your paws to yourself, but I’ll still willingly receive your hug. I may* not like it, but I’ll play along.)
When we were in Chicago for the whole missionary training deal, one of the things we did was go into the city for a cultural day. We went to an area that’s pretty densely populated with Somalian refugees. It was actually really cool, and we had the privilege of meeting a woman who was forced to flee her home in Africa after telling her family of a dream she’d had about Jesus. Her own brother tried to kill her, stabbing her, and throwing a pot of boiling water on her. She told us her story in broken English, wearing a traditional Somali ‘guntiino’, and the fresh scars of her brother’s attack.
Afterward, we walked to a restaurant for a typical Somali lunch. It was hot, so hot, I’m guessing, like, a million degrees. (And on a sidenote, I’m from California, which is awesome compared to the rest of the world with it’s oppressive, hair ruining humidity!) By the end to the first block, our new Somali friend was walking by my side, not talking to me, just walking right next to me. There were others; missionaries in training who wanted to be linguists, asking about her native tongue, and how do you say such and such, and what does this or that mean. And missionaries in training who wanted to go to Africa, and what are the houses like in Somalia, and what is the food like, and is there coffee… And then there was me, silent, painfully aware of how close she was, how our every step matched, how she was getting closer.
By the second block, she had taken my hand.
So there we were, walking hand in hand, like old friends, or sisters. Except that I don’t hold hands with my old friends…or my sisters…because I don’t like to be touched. El Chupacabra kept stealing glances back at us. I’m sure he was waiting to see what I would do, counting the minutes until I stopped to bend down and tie the laces on my flip flops, or pulled away to dig in my purse for a non-existent cell phone, anything to break the grip, to release me from my own discomfort. But all I could think of was her hand on mine, and how it was so smooth and firm, like it had been polished by the years of a life I couldn’t imagine, and how my hand must have felt like a child to hers, soft and plush and smelling of coconut lime verbena.
By the third block, things were off the hizzle.
Somehow, she had pulled me even closer, bringing my hand, along with my entire arm across the front of her body, so that now my left hand was in her left hand and her right arm was wrapped around my back, in a soft hug that ended with her hand resting on my hip. But the best part was that, inexplicably, my left arm was under the wrap that made up the front of her guntiino. Under it. And you know what else? It was also tucked neatly under her boobs….under…her…boobs. My arm. Under boobs. yyeeeah…
We must have looked like the Yin and Yang of conjoined twins. Black and White. Hard and Soft. Intimate and Scared out of her ever loving mind.
We walked six blocks like that. Six agonizing blocks, and she never said one word to me. Not one. We just walked along, sweating all over each other, and I do mean ALL over each other. We were touching, nearly from armpit to ankle, touching and walking. But I wasn’t writhing inside, as you might imagine, because my arm was the meat in a boob and belly sandwich. No, in fact, I hardly thought of that at all. The thing that most disturbed me, the sensation I just couldn’t let go of as we swayed along in the heat, very much together, was the feeling of her hand on my hip.
And to this day, when I think of that woman, I think of Jacob wrestling with God in the desert. I think of God touching Jacob’s hip, disabling him – humbling him – so that he could receive the blessing for which he’d been begging, and fighting, and hanging on so tightly. In the end, we see Jacob limping away into the sunset. Injured but satisfied. Hobbled but holding God’s blessing. That’s kinda how I felt after that day, humbled but blessed.
And I finally understood what Jacob meant when he said “ I have seen God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”
I learned, that day, that meeting with God can be painfully intimate business. But when I allow it, when I wrestle through it no matter how long it takes and no matter how uncomfortable I get, and when I hang on looong enough, in the end, God can* humble me, and He may* even bless me. And then, one of these days, I might* get to link arms with a stranger, and hold on to them as they fight it out, too.
I only hope that I can do so with as much grace and as much dignity as my Somali
friend allowed me…but with less boob, like, way less boob.
Weird, isn’t it, how the things that change us the most are sometimes the last thing we’d ever want?