woman with headscarf touching her neck

My brother and his family recently moved to my area, which has been a wondrous and unexpected blessing. For the first time in my adult life, I am living near relatives.

There’s a part of me that wants to say, “Go away—you’re encroaching on my territory!” but that’s my self-destructive side. I am not used to having family nearby; I am used to the grittiness of going it alone. I have learned that I am fully able to tough it out . . . but life is tough enough without imposing extra, unnecessary hardships upon oneself.

The better part of me—in both senses of the expression—are thrilled, thrilled, thrilled at having family nearby. And so, I appreciated the early scene in Kamila Shamsie’s novel Home Fire in which one of the protagonists, having recently moved to another country—and continent—to further her education and career, reflects on the fact of her family being so far away . . . as well as on the word touch:

“She touched her shoulder, muscles knotted beneath the skin. Pressed down, and knew what it was to be without family; no one’s hands but your own to minister to your suffering. We’ll be in touch all the time, she and Aneeka had said to each other in the weeks before she had left. But ‘touch’ was the one thing modern technology didn’t allow.”

Of course, it’s not just modern technology that doesn’t allow touch. The word touch has been in use for at least 700 years; however, its meaning of “communication”—as in “let’s stay in touch” or “we fell out of touch”—is more recent, having originated in 1884. In the late 1800s, people presumably used the word to refer to (among other things) communication through letter writing: a more ancient form of technology than digital devices, but a technology nonetheless.

Whether you’re in touch with your family through Skype, as in the novel, or through older forms of remote communication (text . . . email . . . landline . . . snail mail . . . telegraph . . . smoke signals . . . carvings in trees . . . rock arrangements in strategic locations), no technology can replace a shoulder massage, hug, kiss, pat on the knee, or gentle and playful kick in the butt.

When was the last time you were in touch with family, not just in the communication sense but literally?