Dr. Fauci suggest that the covid-19 just might be ending the era of the handshake. Should this come to pass, I understand completely and will comply. But as someone totally blind, I will grieve the loss. Some might ask why I’d consider this a loss—handshaking is so formal, even nerdy. But I was nurtured to touch, to hug. My dad was a warm-hearted, charismatic guy without a single sleazy bone or impulse. Had he lived longer, he probably would have had to curb his exuberant greetings.
So, nature plus disability has fed my appreciation of touch. Through the sense, my guide dog communicates all sorts of messages. If he pulls harder, another dog is ahead. If his tail beats into my leg, my husband, kids, or grandkids are approaching. If I feel the harness dip down, Dave is committing the sniffing crime.
Touch not only gives me vital information as I walk independently, it grounds me in reality. If someone says hello, a hand clasp locates the person. My hearing loss doesn’t allow for solid directionality, so I may not face the person accurately. The touch of the hand tells me about size, height, weight, age, and strength, even a bit of personality. It ensures that a real human is before me, not a disembodied voice.
Touch has been so important to me over my life with blindness. I used it in every aspect of parenting, feeding, dressing, diapering, and transporting. Because I couldn’t see my children, I held, hugged, tickled them. I parented them in the manner of a mama chimp, with them in a front pack, backpack, encircled around my shoulders, dangling from one arm. It’s how I grandparent. My grandkids catapult into me. They leap into my lap, crawl onto my shoulders, and swing up to wrap their legs around me. After I leave, our daughter feels crowded, swamped by her kids. “Space,” she calls. “Give me space.”
You see, she can see the two cuties. She doesn’t need the total entanglement I crave. So, no handshakes? The end of this era translates into a wide litany of nos for me. But maybe masks, rubber gloves, protective gear will be ever-necessary. Through the gear, I can still keep track of them, all knotted together and intertwined. I can still fulfill that chimp in me.