In the movie, “Life as a House” a divorced man who is also estranged from his son lies in the hospital room. The nurse touches his forehead briefly and he sighs deeply.
“I haven’t been touched in years,” the sick man says.
The nurse thinks about it a little and then softly strokes his forehead and face for just a moment. He sighs again and takes hold of her hand. She backs up in alarm.
“I’m sorry,” she said, acknowledging that she (they) had crossed a boundary in some way. She left quickly.
The scene resonated with me because within the last year I’ve gotten bolder about touching people’s faces. When they lay sick in the hospital, I place my palm on their foreheads like I’m taking their temperature. At a time of grief, when I’m hugging someone, I’ll sometimes pat her cheek or the back of his head.
Another time, I was on my knees in front of a woman sitting in a hospital waiting room while her son was fighting for his life. I held her hand and placed my forehead on it.
It’s intimate without being too invasive. I don’t do it often or lightly and I try to gauge how the person takes it. It has never been easy trying to find that balance between offering tender support and crossing the line of appropriateness.
Face and head touching is quite powerful. I think that’s why people open up to their barbers and hairdressers. In church we use it for baptism and anointing. The Pentecostals touch the people on the forehead so they’ll be “slain in the spirit.”
I don’t believe in that Pentecostal practice, but I wonder if that isn’t what the scripture is getting at when it speaks of laying hands on someone. There really is something about physical touch that brings one’s spirit close to another.
Face touching is my way of reaching past the loneliness, especially during times of great sickness or distress.