Losing Touch

This fall, after driving cross-country to Boston, I dropped my daughter off for her first year of college. We stayed with her godmother and, since we had all been recently tested, after about five minutes we decided to remove the masks and join the same ‘bubble.’ When my daughter and I left the next morning to swim at Walden Pond before her move-in, I hugged Kerry goodbye. I’m not an excessively demonstrative person, but I started to tear up, realizing that, except for my wife and my daughters, this was the first person I’d touched in six months. I was profoundly moved by the experience. 

When the first round of “lockdowns” began in March, one of the things that changed was our experience of our own embodiment. Suddenly, we lost contact, literally, with the richness of the tactile world: handshakes, embracing friends, shared meals. Even mundane objects like mail, groceries, currency and doorknobs became objects of suspicion. Aristotle tells us that touch is the most fundamental of the senses; as long as we are alive it is “on,” even while we sleep. But, if so, the past year has been one of not-quite-life. 

Even prior to the pandemic, our sensuous engagement with the world was under threat from ‘reality’ television, ‘social’ media and a thousand other abstractions. Author Richard Louv wrote of “nature deficit disorder” affecting both individual health and social well-being. However, as is often the case, we appreciate things most acutely when they are taken from us. It’s difficult to know what the future will be like. But I hope that one long-lasting change wrought by the pandemic will be a renewed appreciation of and gratitude for the simple fact of being alive, bodily, in the material world, for community with each other, and for the Earth. 

Brian Treanor is a professor of philosophy in the LMU Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts and the holder of the Charles S. Casassa Chair. He is the author of eight books including “Melancholic Joy: On Life Worth Living.” His expertise is in environmental philosophy, ethics and the philosophy of religion. 

Tell Us Your Story

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to adapt and change many of the ways we do our work in almost every sector of society. Are there pandemic-related changes in your field of work or expertise that will last beyond the crisis? 

Tell us in 250 words about the most important change, for better or worse, that you see as long-lasting in your world of work. Email your reflection to magazine@lmu.edu, along with your name, email address, your relationship to the university, and your profession or area of expertise or work. We’ll post some to the LMU Magazine website on the Afterlife page in the coming weeks.—The Editor.